To the Editor:
Last Monday evening, Dr. Janet Wilson, Garrett County Public Schools superintendent, presented an informational meeting dealing with the current state of finances and planning options for next year.
The board commissioned a study by Facility Engineering Associates (FEA) to look at all of our elementary and middle schools. Their brief was to look at the state of the buildings and their current utilization and present options to deal with two problems: 1) Overcrowding at Southern elementary schools; 2) Closing a projected $2.2 funding shortfall for FY2015 (next year).
The presentations were full of information and about as depressing as an anvil dropped out of a fourth story window. Four options were presented. The entire study will be posted on the board website and available in schools for review after it is presented formally to the board on Nov. 12.
Only Option 4 comes anywhere close to closing the funding gap: OPTION 4: “Close two elementary schools in the northern school district and one in the southern school district, reconfigure all grades in the northern schools, adjust district boundaries to alleviate overcrowding in the south and increase enrollment in the north.”
Without any inside sources and looking at the data as presented, I believe we are headed for Option 4, which only actually closes 84 percent of our funding gap.
Since 2009, we have already closed three elementary schools and absorbed the loss of almost 90 staff positions. I wrote to the governor about our funding situation and the absurdity of Garrett being considered the fifth wealthiest county in the state. The response I got said that things are tough all over and Garrett is being supported according to the wealth formula, same as everyone else.
Action by the legislature will not come until almost the deadline for submitting the plan for next year. So, please, by all means continue to write to the governor, because we need immediate relief. The BOE only has only three sources of funding: federal, state and local. Federal sources will probably decline slightly with enrollment, State funding will decline massively again next year, so our only hope is local funding. It is my belief that we need to be writing and talking to the commissioners.
The answer to the question, “Will anyone even recognize our school system next year?” is going to be answered in the county offices, not in the board of education office. I believe it is past time for our commissioners to decide what kind of schools they are willing to pay for.
By FY 2015, we will be at the bottom of an almost $7 million slide in state support for Garrett County Public Schools, and our local funding over that time has increased by about $2.5 million. We have closed the gaps until now on the backs of the employees, the communities, and most unfortunately, the children.
Can we survive under Option 4? Not without huge disruptions to the lives of students, devastation of small communities, and laying off even more of the best educators in the state.
So, write the commissioners and tell them that you believe maintaining our excellent school system is worth a nickel increase in the property tax rate. Thanks.
Mike Mike Pula,