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School closings, cuts may not be enough to close budget gap

Facilities study gives options to reduce Garrett County Public Schools deficit

Elaine BlaisdellCumberland Times-News

MCHENRY — Even if the board of education chooses the most extreme option of the elementary school facility needs assessment and master plan study for Garrett County Public Schools, the savings wouldn’t be enough to close the $2.2 million budget gap, according to Paul Swanson, principal and co-founder of Facility Engineering Associates, P.C. of Fairfax, Va.

The most extreme option of the company’s study proposes closing two schools in the north end of the county as well as one school in the south end and includes reconfiguration of all grades in northern schools and adjusting school boundary lines.

“If we were to take the most extreme option and still only realize an 83 percent gain towards the $2.2 million deficit that we anticipate, how would we come up with what’s left?” said Superintendent of Schools Janet Wilson during a presentation of the study Monday.

If the schools were reconfigured it would lead to reductions in teachers, according to Wilson.

“We have reduced our staff by 88 positions since 2009,” said Wilson. “We have lost 609 students; at a 1-to-20 ratio we probably should reduce the staff.”

Some extracurricular programs would also need to be eliminated to help close the deficit, according to Wilson.

The goals of the study are to close a predicted $2.2 million budget gap and remedy overcrowding issues at Broad Ford and Yough Glades elementary schools.

The board will accept the facilities study during a meeting Nov. 12, but won’t tell the Maryland State Department of Education what option it chooses until April 1. The study as well as other data points that may be gathered will be throughly reviewed, according to Wilson.

“With the $2.2 million deficit there is the possibility that our school system will look very different, and as a result of that, the planning that will have to go into preparation for the next changes are no small task,” said Wilson.

The advisory committees will be formed this year using an application process that will begin between Nov. 14 and 28 and committee members will be named Dec. 2.

“There may be other options as the advisory process unfolds,” said Wilson. “The advisory committees will meet with me and staff to really discuss the process. Not only will schools that are slated to close have an advisory committee but all schools will have an advisory committee because there is potential impact to all schools.”

Other options of the study include transferring fifth-graders at Broad Ford to Southern Middle School, moving eighth grade and re-routing buses. The cheapest option would be to adjust school boundaries to the tune of $50,000, according to Swanson.

“The good news is you have very good schools. Because you have good schools you have some options,” said Swanson. “I’ve been in school systems where a lot of the things we are talking about just wouldn’t be possible.”

No public comments or questions were taken during the meeting Monday, but Swanson and Tom Larson, principal and co-founder of FEA, will return in early January to answer written questions that the advisory committees will submit in advance. In mid to late January, the advisory committees will present reports of schools that will potentially close to the board.

In February, the board will hear committee reports from schools that are remaining open and reports from the middle and high schools that may be affected by a reconfiguration, according to Wilson. Also in February, the board will hold community hearings and in early March, Wilson will make her recommendation. In late March, the board will act on Wilson’s recommendation.

Local, state and federal funding make up 51 percent, 42.2 percent and 6.6 percent of the budget, respectively, according to Wilson.

The amount of money that will be provided federally and locally is not yet known, according to Wilson.

“We cannot wait to know those limits because of the massive shift of whatever we decide to do will require,” said Wilson.

The school system’s estimated loss of $1.5 million for fiscal 2015 is due to the state’s wealth formula, which in part is based on enrollment. The wealth formula will be studied for adequacy and fairness in the fall of 2014 but isn’t slated for completion until 2016. The decline in enrollment will continue for a while, according to Swanson.

The scope of the study includes the assessment of elements required by the Code of Maryland Regulations, which governs school closings should the board be forced to move in that direction.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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Constant Yield Hearing Scheduled; County Budget Cut By $15.7 Million

Apr. 15, 2010

The Garrett County commissioners will conduct a constant yield public hearing on Tuesday, April 20, at 11 a.m. in their meeting room at the courthouse in Oakland. They have also scheduled a review of the proposed real property tax rate that same day at 7 p.m. at Garrett College.

The purpose of these events is to receive public commentary on the proposed real property tax rate, $0.990 per $100 of the assessable base, in Fiscal Year 2011, which begins on July 1. The meetings are also part of the commissioners’ review process for the FY ’11 Operating and Capital Budget.

County administrator Monty Pagenhardt and the Department of Financial Services staff have evaluated estimated revenue and requests for funding from all departments and agencies. Late last year, they were instructed to submit flat budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

“At the direction of the board [of commissioners], all requests for an annual appropriation for FY ’11 are to be equal to that of FY ’10,” Pagenhardt noted. “This directive was based on the evident realization that state of Maryland funding to the county and local revenue collected would be less than prior fiscal periods.”

The review of expected revenue and requests for funding completed by Pagenhardt and Financial Services shows a total budget for FY ’11 of $68,173,566, compared to an amended budget for FY ’10 of $83,908,587.

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Tight state budget hitting Allegany, Garrett County

Kevin Spradlin
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget does not spare local governments, including Garrett and Allegany counties, from cuts in aid.

Details of the proposed budget, which takes effect July 1, were released Wednesday. As anticipated, both counties’ disparity grants and highway user revenue funds took hits, although most county aid programs will be flat-funded.

The disparity grant originally was worth nearly $7.3 million but O’Malley and the state Board of Public Works cut that by $1.267 million. The disparity grants are distributed to subdivisions whose per-capita income revenues are less than 75 percent of the statewide average.

“Well, the wealth of the state has declined,” said Jerry Frantz, director of finance for Allegany County government. “So, 75 percent of a lesser number is less disparity.”

One change this year is that regardless of what the disparity might be, the grant money cannot exceed 2010 levels. Allegany County’s disparity grant could be $6.03 million while Garrett County could receive $2.05 million.

“We’re not the only ones,” Frantz said. “All in all, it’s down $24.3 million. That’s 20 percent. We’re going down 17 percent.”

Under O’Malley’s proposed budget, Allegany County would receive $138,000 in Program Open Space funds and Garrett County would get $70,000. Funding for local health programs would include $909,000 for Allegany County and $437,000 for Garrett County.

Frantz said the highway user revenue was so important in previous years that his office created a special revenue fund for accounting purposes. That’s to be eliminated this year because the appropriation, formerly between $5 million and $6 million, is now “down to next to nothing.”

Any highway user revenue now will be deposited into the county’s general fund because, after state cuts, all the road work is “practically paid for by the general fund,” Frantz said.

One item not in O’Malley’s proposal is money for new voting machines. The omission could save the state and counties each about $9 million this year.

A full analysis of O’Malley’s proposed budget wasn’t available. Frantz said he typically waits for the Maryland Association of Counties, an Annapolis-based nonprofit corporation that advocates local governments’ interests, to release its analysis.

“It’s going to be another extremely difficult budget,” Frantz said. “And I think that 2012 may even be worse. I don’t see much light right now… I think there may be worse things coming.”

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427th Maryland General Assembly Now Open: Facing $2 Billion Deficit

427th Maryland General Assembly Now Open: Facing $2 Billion Deficit

Jan. 14, 2010

by Daniel Leaderman

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland General Assembly kicked off its 427th legislative session Wednesday, a term likely to be dominated by the state’s nearly $2 billion budget deficit, as well as legislative efforts to protect citizens from sex offenders.

Lawmakers just need to agree on how to balance the budget, especially with so many reluctant to increase taxes in an election year. In the last year the Board of Public Works has cut more than $1 billion from the operating budget.

“We’re facing our California moment, as are many other states,” said Delegate Luiz R. S. Simmons, D-Montgomery. The legislature will have to “make some very painful choices … we should be very careful about imposing any new taxes.”

Some lawmakers and advocates are calling for a dime-a-drink tax that would help fund public health initiatives. But legislative leaders including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, are opposed to the idea.

Delegate Paul S. Stull, R-Frederick, said new taxes this year would be political suicide.

“There’s too many people out of work, too many foreclosures have taken place … I don’t think you can tax the working man to work your way out of debt,” Stull said.

The solution, Stull said, is to create jobs and to “take a hard look at where we might be able to make cuts that hurt the fewest number of people … that’s going to be very difficult.”

Delegate Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, said he was aware that tax increases would not be a popular topic in the legislature this session, but didn’t see more budget cuts as a viable solution.

“We’ve cut all the fat off of the bone. More than that, we’re cutting into bone,” he said.

“We weren’t elected to do the right thing only in non-election years,” Manno said. “If we wait until 2011, it will get worse.”

The December murder of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell on the Eastern Shore is also likely to be a key issue this session. Thomas J. Leggs Jr., registered as a sex offender in both Maryland and Delaware, was charged Monday with kidnapping Foxwell.

“As the father of an 11-year-old-girl, it enraged me,” Busch said, in his address to the House. “There’s got to be better communication between the states when these predators are out on the streets.”

Delegate Andrew A. Serafini, D-Washington, said Foxwell’s death will affect many issues this session.

“It will be interesting to see how people vote this session considering it is an election year,” Serafini said.

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If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350