CCPS begins budget prep
Deferred maintenance, new programs targeted
— As Cecil County Public Schools kicked off the fiscal year 2018 budget process Monday night, many of the financial needs presented were familiar ones: tackling deferred maintenance, increasing staff and adding new programs.
But this year, CCPS will advocate for those needs in an increasingly unfamiliar climate as it seeks to navigate potential funding changes at the state level, a change in leadership at the county level and a drop in enrollment across the system.
During the last Board of Education meeting of the year on Monday, school administrators presented their initial thoughts on the next budget to the board while acknowledging that the budget process has barely begun. The items presented merely represented a wishlist of sorts from school officials and those requests will be narrowed down with help from the school board by the time the superintendent’s budget is presented in February before going through the approval process at the county level.
Two of the county’s newly
elected officials, County Executive Alan McCarthy and Councilman Bob Meffley, attended the meeting and as he started the budget presentation, CCPS Chief Financial Officer Tom Kappra expressed hope that school and county officials will be able to come together and find some longterm solutions to the school system’s financial needs.
“We have a significant challenge and we know it’s not going to get fixed overnight,” he said. “It’s taken several years for us to get to this point. It’s going to take several years to reverse itself.”
One part of the budget where CCPS feels it’s been lagging behind is school construction projects, with the system’s deferred maintenance now near $50 million. These projects are broken down into small capital projects, which includes projects
that are too costly to be included in the operating budget but are generally not eligible for funding by the state, and large capital projects, which receive state and local funding.
At the top of the large capital projects list is funding to finish construction on the new Gilpin Manor Elementary School, which is due to be completed by fall 2018. Also on the list are several roof and boiler replacement projects as well as local planning funds for a new Chesapeake City Elementary School.
Under small capital projects, the system’s energy performance contract, which goes through 2021, is at the top of the list of 18 projects. Following that are several deferred maintenance projects as well as a field house for Perryville High School, the only high school that doesn’t have one and which has been a perpetual request from the system for the past several years.
Further down the list are
projects to make the entrances at Elk Neck Elementary School, Elkton Middle School and Perryville and Rising Sun high schools more secure, though officials emphasized that these buildings are currently safe.
“In the world we live in right now, we have to keep our students safe. Because giving them the best education isn’t enough if we can’t keep them safe,” school board President Dawn Branch said.
Outside of construction needs, other big potential asks include an initial list of 58 additional full-time equivalent positions and a nearly $1 million investment in a medium/heavy truck technician program at the Cecil County School of Technology.
“That’s where the jobs are today,” said board Vice President Wendy Wintersgill about the CCST program. “When we have kids who do not graduate, it’s often because we didn’t have the program that would interest them or that they needed. And one
kid not finding their way is one too many.”
As officials look for ways to fund these requests, one yearly struggle is the system’s fluctuating enrollment, since the number of students at CCPS affects its funding at the state level.
Last year the school system saw an increase of about 159 students funded students while this year CCPS is facing a drop of about 119 funded students. Perry Willis, executive director for administration services, has been doing enrollment projections for 12 years and said he’s been unable to find any concrete explanation for the constant changes.
The system’s funding per student is $13,383 as of fiscal year 2016, the most recent data available, which puts it 19th of 24 systems in the state. Other school systems of similar size though, including Wicomico and Calvert, are ranked more in the 13th to 15th range, Kappra said.
The level of state funding
each system receives depends on a county’s wealth as well as student demographics, and in Cecil County, $5,281 comes from the county and $7,505 comes from the state, with the rest coming from the federal government. The state average for funding per student is $14,917.
But changes could be coming at the state level in the coming years as several studies are underway that could affect funding. The Kirwan Commission, a state commission that was created to study how much state and local governments should spend on public school systems, recently released its report, which
found that Maryland should spend $2.6 billion more on schools and that state funding formulas should be revamped.
At the same time, the 21st Century School Facilities Commission is currently studying the state’s school construction program, examining how to control costs and still build quality schools. The report from that commission is due in the coming months.
The General Assembly is expected to look at the recommendations from both the Kirwan Commission and the facilities commission when it reconvenes in January.