Cumberland Times-News

December 18, 2013

Buying time

Funds will keep Garrett schools open for now

Cumberland Times-News

— Three Garrett County public schools appear to have been given a new lease on life — at least for the coming year — because of $2.2 million in funding from the county commissioners. (A related letter appears on this page.)

The three-member county commission board said it was setting aside the money under the condition that the school system drop plans to close Crellin, Friendsville and Route 40 elementary schools.

But the reprieve is no guarantee the county and school system will be able to continue funding operation of the schools indefinitely. Declining enrollment, reduced state dollars for education and the impact of the so-called county wealth formula all still pose challenges in keeping the schools open.

The wealth formula is used by the state to direct more aid per capita to “poorer” jurisdictions and less to “wealthy” jurisdictions. Garrett is considered one of the wealthy jurisdictions due to an assessable tax base that is high because of a proliferation of vacation and residential properties in the Deep Creek Lake area.

In order to come up with the $2.2 million, the county commissioners are juggling the county budget.

Among the moves they plan are $500,000 in reduced county government expenses and a requirement that the school system pare its operating expenses by $200,000.

When the additional school money was approved Tuesday, it appeared evident the move is a “Band-Aid” approach. The county and State Sen. George Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel will attempt to gain more  education money from the state. Local officials also hope the wealth formula will be changed to lessen its impact on Garrett. But a study of the wealth formula is not due until next year and is not scheduled to be implemented until 2016.

Nevertheless, the county commissioners have helped the school system buy some time in attempting to keep the three community schools open. There is plenty of work ahead — but the situation is now more hopeful going forward.