Update: Carroll County Public Schools
At the end of October, I wrote a column on an education crisis taking place in Carroll County and the history that led up to the event. You can read it here. Since then, the Board of Education decided on a plan that would close three schools, much to the dismay of their communities. The plan would save an estimated $5 million per year while the Board will request $13 million more (7% increase, $189 million total) from the Carroll County Board of Commissioners , primarily for staff and educator pay raises.
Little information has been provided by the media surrounding the matter; most of the reports focus on a limited response from the emotionally involved and provides few, if any, facts. Ignorance of the facts has gotten us into this mess, and ignorance of the facts will continue to drive us down this path once again.
Red Maryland has always provided essential facts and information where the media has failed, and so I will keep up the tradition with this update. I will be providing the facts and only a limited commentary that will be marked in italics for convenience, with a summary at the end. There is a lot of important data for anyone interested in public education.
The Recommended Plan
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During the week before Christmas, I received a white envelope of standard paper size from Carroll County Public Schools. It was post marked 12/18/2015 and cost $2.74. It was addressed to “Community Member” and butchered my mailing address in quite a unique way. I live in Manchester, which is a community affected by the proposed closing of North Carroll High School. I do not know who they consider a “Community Member” nor have I seen any reports discussing the issue.
Inside the envelope was a document titled “The Superintendent’s Final School Closure and Boundary Adjustment Recommended Plan” and dated December 9, 2015 (see title picture above). I immediately opened it to random pages to catch a glimpse of what I had in-front of me before I realized that I would have to look deeply.
I had briefly heard of the plan before this time, but the media failed to discussed it, provided a breakdown of what was contained in it, or anything beyond a minor mention. There have been no summaries, analysis, or anything worth while. The information is, sadly, new. You can find it online here. Some background on meeting dates and other information can be found on the Carroll County Public School’s website.
With my highlighter in hand, I began a 3 hour read of the 74 page plan, 22 of which were explanatory documents while the rest was an appendix of charts and data. Here is what I found most interesting:
“Option 1 included the closure of Charles Carroll Elementary School and balancing enrollments across the remaining schools. This option was presented merely as a reflection of prior Board actions. The BAC determined that this option was insufficient… Option 2 recommended the closure of North Carroll high School, New Windsor Middle School, Charles Carroll, Sandymount, and Mt. Airy Elementary Schools and balancing enrollment across the remaining schools.”
“Option 3 was developed from the Committee’s Option 2 in the original report based on Board feedback. Option 3 recommends the closure of three elementary schools, Charles Carroll, Mt. Airy, and Sandymount; one middle school, New Windsor; and one high school, North Carroll. Based on these closures, Option 3 then balances enrollments with capacity among the remaining schools across the system. However, the boundaries under Option 3 mitigate the number of students impacted from Option 2”
Superintendent’s Final Recommendation
“For the 2016-2017 school year: Consolidate Manchester Valley and North Carroll High school boundaries and combine two student populations at Manchester Valley High School… Adjust the New Windsor, Mt. Airy, and Northwest Middle school boundaries and redistrict the New Windsor Middle School student population… Adjust the Charles Carroll, Ebb Valley, Runnymede, and William Winchester Elementary school boundaries and redistrict Charles Carroll Elementary School students”
Notes: Only Charles Carroll Elementary School will be closed next year.
“The Superintendent is recommending three school closures for school year 2016-17 in this final recommendation… While the Superintendent concurs with the BAC recommendation that the data support the closure of additional schools, this final recommendation supports a viable plan to accomplish the implementation for the next school year. After the implementation of this plan is completed, the BAC may be reconvened to consider additional schools if the Board provides such direction”
“Charles Carroll is a small elementary school with a slightly declining population. The school’s capacity of 320 is almost half of the Board’s optimum size for an elementary school.”
“The Superintended agrees with the BAC recommendation that a middle school should be closed and further agrees that an analysis of factors concludes that New Windsor Middle is the viable selection. Like Charles Carroll at the elementary level, New Windsor’s capacity of 430 is well below the Board’s optimum size for a middle school of 750… Although East Middle remains a capital priority, the Superintendent does not believe it is feasible to close East Middle. Closure of East would result in large scale relocation of middle school students throughout the county, severely misaligned feeder patterns, and an overall middle school utilization at 98%, which is too high for the most effective operations of schools and would allow no flexibility for unanticipated enrollment changes.”
“The Superintended concurs with the BAC recommendation that North Carroll is the only feasible option for a high school closure. High school data are the most compelling for a school closure. Current aggregate utilization is 79% and is projected to drop to 69% by the end of the projection period. In northern Carroll, this is even more pronounced… both northern high schools are just above 60% utilization today and projected to be in the 50% range by the end of the projection window. Nowhere in CCPS are students more disadvantaged by the inefficiencies this creates for educational and extra-curricular opportunities than at these two schools. Staffing resources are stretched at both schools, course offerings cannot be provided despite efforts to provide shuttles and other creative means, and extra-curricular programs suffer… Of the two area high schools, which are located four miles apart, Manchester Valley is the newest, having opened in 2009. From facility condition, educational condition, and fiscal perspectives, it would be illogical to close the more modern school. Furthermore, Manchester Valley still carries local debt.”
Notes: “Furthermore, Manchester Valley still carries local debt.”
Organizational Efficiencies, Operational Savings, and Capital Cost Avoidance
“This final recommendation will generate $5,119,463 in operation budget savings prior to any offsets, which will be addressed below. These savings represent the combined core staffing and building costs associated with running each of the three schools proposed for closure. More detail and specific figures for the core costs for each school are available in Appendix I and J.
Notes: “These savings represent the combined core staffing” = people will be fired.
Appendix I – Facilities Utilization Study Financial Index
“Charles Carroll Elementary: Year Opened (1929); Sq. Ft. (43,700); 2014 Enrollment (270 of 320) Sq. Ft./Student (148.59) Bldg & Core Staff Costs ($988,763); Cost/Sq. Ft. ($22.63 Rank 1); Cost/Classes ($70,626 Rank 1)
New Windsor Middle: Year Opened (1995); Sq. Ft. (83,235); 2014 Enrollment (377 of 430) Sq. Ft./Student (193,57) Bldg & Core Staff Costs ($1,238,788); Cost/Sq. Ft. ($14.88 Rank 1); Cost/Classes ($61,939 Rank 1)
East Middle: Year Opened (1975); Sq. Ft. (120,400); 2014 Enrollment (704 of 790) Sq. Ft./Student (171.02) Bldg & Core Staff Costs ($1,195,390); Cost/Sq. Ft. ($9.93 Rank 9); Cost/Classes ($39,846 Rank 8)
North Carroll High: Year Opened (1976); Sq. Ft. (233,400); 2014 Enrollment (750 of 1159) Sq. Ft./Student (311.2) Bldg & Core Staff Costs ($2,891,912); Cost/Sq. Ft. ($12.39 Rank 7); Cost/Classes ($45,903 Rank 7)
Manchester Valley High: Year Opened (2009); Sq. Ft. (217,500); 2014 Enrollment (761 of 1297) Sq. Ft./Student (167.69) Bldg & Core Staff Costs ($2,732,080); Cost/Sq. Ft. ($12.56 Rank 5); Cost/Classes ($47,931 Rank 5)”
Notes: The Elementary and Middle schools chosen to close are ranked 1st for costs per square footage, which implies inefficiency. The high schools chosen to merge are not ranked 1st. North Carroll High School has the highest square footage per student, but the lowest, Liberty High School (147.03) is ranked first for costs per square foot ($17.52) is at 93.23% capacity. The average cost for high schools is $13.02 per square foot. Liberty High School is ranked 2nd for cost compared to classes ($54,667). Century High School is ranked 1st for cost ($55,184) and is at 86.97% capacity. The average cost for high schools is $48,600.
Appendix I – Building and Core Staff Costs
“Manchester Valley: Core Staff FTE (31.83); Core Staff $(2,120,778); Non-Staff (611,303); Total (2,732,080)
North Carroll: Core Staff FTE (31.40); Core Staff $ (2,156,675); Non-Staff (735,237); Total (2,891,912)”
Notes: Two schools (Liberty and Francis Scott Key) have lower Core Staff $ than both schools. Manchester Valley has the lowest Non-Staff $ and two schools (Liberty and Francis Scott Key) are lower than North Carroll. Manchester Valley has the lowest total, while two schools (Liberty and Francis Scott Key) are below North Carroll.
“Charles Carroll Elementary: A total cost avoidance of $3,250,000… New Windsor Middle: A total cost avoidance of $11,475,000… North Carroll High: A total cost avoidance of $5,906,000”
Notes: The biggest costs to each are roof replacements.
Reimbursement of State Bond Debt
“A request was made through the Public School Construction Program to the State Treasurer for an exact amount of outstanding State debt for potential repayment on the three schools… This total breaks out between the three schools as $427,722 for North Carroll High, $91,937 for New Windsor Middle, and $115,688 for Charles Carroll Elementary.”
“schools will require the rerouting of existing bus runs… the maximum estimated additional transportation cost for extended bus routes and additional buses is $200,000.”
Impact of Declining Enrollment on the School System
“For three decades, from 185 to 2005, Carroll County grew at a historic level and this growth was reflected in a rapid increase in student population, which reached its peak in September 2005 at 28,940. During this time period, 11 new schools were constructed to accommodate the growing capacity needs.”
“Immediately upon reaching its peak, growth stopped in Carroll County, and our student population decline began on almost as sharp a trajectory as our growth. Data in the BAC Report reflects that Carroll County birth rates dropped, beginning in 2004, by 400 from our historic high. Additionally, domestic migration into Carroll County also reversed in the same time period. Accordingly, enrollment has declined by 3,356 students since 2005, with a projected further decline of 2,265 over the next nine years.”
Utilization Rates – Current and Projected
“Elementary: 2014 (82%), 2019 (74%), 2024 (80%)
Middle: 2014 (86%), 2019 (80%), 2024 (71%)
High: 2014 (79%), 2019 (77%), 2024 (69%)”
“CCPS can sustain closing one high school now and may need to revisit this question again after the 10-year projection period.”
“While perhaps everyone would like to see growth, at least to stop the enrollment declines, the reality is that growth is unlikely… In fact, it would require unprecedented growth beyond what is reasonable to impact the plan proposed in this recommendation, which would remove a total of 1,909 capacity from CCPS as follows… Elementary (320), Middle (430), High (1159).”
“The relative wealth calculation is determined by dividing the total assessable wealth by the number of students. Carroll County’s total assessable wealth has held its position relative to the state but with declining enrollment each year, the denominator artificially inflates Carroll’s relative wealth ranking resulting in less aid… The Board as advocated for several years for a hold harmless provision… However, even if successful, the most likely scenario for a hold-harmless provision would be for a 50% reduction to state loss. This would amount to approximately $1 million of reduced loss per year, which would be a minor mitigation to the Board’s overall funding challenge.”
Notes: “which would be a minor mitigation” means state legislation cant address the capacity problem.
“No one solution will suffice to bridge the gap and no scenario can be accomplished without the Board taking action to close schools. The Commissioners have shared publicly that bridging the gap through local tax increases would require a 30% tax increase, which is not viable.”
Notes: 30% tax increase to not close schools.
Analysis of the Impact of the Recommend School Closures
“Based on the 2014 total enrollment and this new capacity number, total K-12 utilization would increase from 82% to 87%.” Elementary from 82% to 84%, Middle from 86% to 91%, and High from 79% to 88%.
“it does not balance utilizations across the county. As a result, several schools will remain under-utilized or over-utilized until a comprehensive redistricting process takes place.”
“Closing the three schools requires the reassignment of approximately 549 elementary school students, 382 middle school students and 737 high school students… The average county-wide student (all levels) distance from home to school will increase under this plan to 3.45 miles.. The new boundaries will impact 7% of all current students”
“The closure of the three schools in Superintendent’s plan will result in a total capital cost avoidance of $20,631,000… There will also be an overall operation savings of $5,119,463 based on the eliminated core staff and core building costs for the three school closures”
“Additionally, the Board has highlighted competitive employee salaries as a primary goal, which requires a large infusion of revenue. The school closure savings could represent a small portion of the revenue needed for that goal.”
Notes: Savings will come from firing people, but savings will provide “a small portion of revenue needed” to give pay raises to those not fired. This will increase the cost for each school by a significant amount and go well above the savings obtained.
Here are my concluding thoughts: it would be extremely expensive and illogical to retain the three schools designated for closure in Carroll County, and it is likely that more schools will have to be closed. However, any savings obtained are already being earmarked for a dramatic pay increase for staff, which will jeopardize the financial stability of the Carroll County Public Schools in the future. Additionally, any hold harmless provisions lobbied by the state legislators would bring in funding that would be earmarked for staff raises and not to keep any school open.
The only way to prevent future school closures is to retain the savings resulting from school closures to offset future costs from a decrease in enrollment. Raising wages to be “competitive” compared to extremely wealthy nearby counties (Montgomery, Howard), extremely rural counties that are having their own budget crisis or a district with unsafe schools (Baltimore City) will only heighten the need for more schools to be closed. To even attempt to compete with rich districts would be similar to someone who makes only $30,000 a year buying an Escalade because his neighbor the wealthy stock broker has one. Not living within our means is how we keep getting into these fiscal messes. Trying to compete with neighboring counties will also mean that a substantial amount of educators will receive a complete wage decrease (fired), and the potential for school closures in the future decreases job security throughout the county.
There will be more teachers looking for jobs yet wages will increase, which goes directly against the natural supply and demand for wages. Additionally, local residents will bear the negative effects of closing schools while educators, of which many live outside of the county boundaries, including Pennsylvania, will receive a substantial pay raise. Instead of a wage increase, an incentive program for educators living within the county would mitigate this outflow of local revenues to neighboring jurisdictions. It could also provide a (possible) minor increase to local population figures by encouraging educators to live in Carroll County instead of neighboring jurisdictions.
The information provided reveals the need for all members of the community to pay particular attention to population figures, local revenue, and future projects before considering an issue as delicate and important as a public education system. Additionally, any proposals for educator salary increases must be analyzed within the context of declining enrollment.