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May 7, 2013

Garrett board of education warns of bleak times ahead

Between 2009 and 2014, state aid dropped $4.5 million

CUMBERLAND — OAKLAND —  The Garrett County Board of Education posted an open letter to citizens on its website to alert them that the financial forecast for the next couple of years looks bleak.

The board adopted Superintendent Janet Wilson’s fiscal  2014 budget during a special meeting April 18. During that meeting, projections relating to the anticipated fiscal 2015 revenue and 2016 revenue shortfalls were shared.

Garrett County Public Schools receives more than 90 percent of its revenue from state and local sources.  

State revenues have continued to decline in recent years as a result of the county’s increasing wealth and the school system’s declining enrollment.

Between fiscal years 2009 and 2014, revenues from state aid have declined by more than $4.5 million, while corresponding aid from county government has increased by $2.2 million.

Last year, Dennett Road and Kitzmiller elementary schools closed permanently because of a $2 million shortfall, and other programs were cut.

The decision was made to close the schools despite receiving $500,000 from the county commissioners.

Bloomington Elementary was closed in 2011.

“Last-minute funding offered by the Board of County Commissioners came with no promises of future funding which would have required the advisory group process, and the emotional turmoil that goes with the process, to be repeated the following year,” said the letter.

 If reliable and sustainable streams of revenue cannot be identified and committed in a timely manner for fiscal 15 and beyond, the school system is required by state code to begin the advisory process to determine if school closures, consolidation and redistricting are necessary, according to the letter.

“This time, every school (all eight in the county) will be involved in the process requiring that the advisory meetings begin this summer,” said the letter.

The school board will obtain a facility study and the results will be given to the advisory committees.

The study will be conducted on Accident, Broad Ford, Crellin, Friendsville, Grants-ville, Route 40, Swan Meadow and Yough Glades Elementary schools.

The results of the study will help to ensure that the best decisions regarding any school closures, consolidation and redistricting are made for 2015 and for the future of the county schools. Decisions regarding closures, consolidation and redistricting for fiscal 2015 must be made by April 1, 2014.

In fiscal year 2015, the board anticipates that the state aid revenues will decline by an additional $1 million.

The board invited commissioners to discuss the future of the Garrett County Public School System on April 24, but the commissioners couldn’t attend because the meeting precludes the final approval of the county’s fiscal 2014 budget, which will be adopted at the June 4 public meeting.

“Public education is certainly a priority for the county and the identification of long-term financial planning has been and will continue to be a high priority,” said Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator. “Just as the public school system is experiencing a reduction of funding, all other county government core areas of public interest must be cognizant of the current economic times.”

The board has no revenue-generating authority and is squarely dependent on the commissioners’ commitment to providing an adequate operating budget, according to the letter.

The county is proposing to allot $26.2 million to public school system for fiscal 2014, according to Pagenhardt. The largest portion of the county’s fiscal 2013 budget allotted $26,023,714 to the board.

Without additional aid from the commissioners, the approximate fiscal 2015 budget gap for the board would be $1.7 million, according to the letter.

Projections indicate that in fiscal 2016, the school system faces an additional $450,000 deficit.

“The local share of the current county government’s budget does not represent an adequate amount to operate our school system and has not been adequate for some time,” states the letter.

The commissioners will conduct an informational budget meeting today at 7 p.m. at Garrett College auditorium.  

“It is our hope that the fiscal 2014 budget discussion will include a promise of revenue that will secure the future of the school system in fiscal 2015,” said the letter. “Without guaranteed streams of funding and with the additional requirements of reform focusing on massive change at the classroom level, there will be consequences.”

The board needs a committed amount of revenue for 2015 and beyond in order to avert the need for school closure, consolidation and redistricting advisory meetings and to plan for instructional programs necessary for current reforms, according to the letter.

Wilson, Pagenhardt and respective staff will get together to develop cooperative points of interest regarding the budget and set up a meeting at a later date.

The letter can be read in its entirety at http://www. ga.k12.md.us/. The county budget can be viewed at www.garrettcounty.org.

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