Tal­bot ed­u­ca­tors of­fer new fund­ing so­lu­tion

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

— As Tal­bot County ed­u­ca­tors be­gin the bud­get de­lib­er­a­tion process for fis­cal year 2019, they are gear­ing up to in­flu­ence a change in the county’s prop­erty tax for­mula as they await a new state fund­ing for­mula.

At two re­cent meet­ings, Tal­bot County Pub­lic Schools Su­per­in­ten- dent Kelly Griffith dis­cussed the on­go­ing work of the Mary­land Com­mis­sion on In­no­va­tion and Ex­cel­lence in Ed­u­ca­tion, and the need to make changes in the way the county funds ed­u­ca­tion and other pub­lic ser­vices.

Griffith told a small group at the Chapel District Ele­men­tary School town hall on Oct. 10 that the com­mis­sion, also known as the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion, “hasn’t spent any time on the (fund­ing) for­mula. They have come up with some crazy for­mula where Tal­bot County gets noth­ing, but that has al­ready been shelved. They have to re­port in De­cem­ber, and I be­lieve what they’re go­ing to re­port is, ‘Here are some rec­om­men­da­tions that we have, but we’ll need more time to study it.’”

At a joint meet­ing of the Tal­bot County Coun­cil and board of ed­u­ca­tion on Sept. 25, Griffith shared fund­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of

the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Boards of Ed­u­ca­tion, as well as a flyer TCPS has de­signed that ex­plains the Tal­bot County tax rev­enue cap and en­cour­ages voter reg­is­tra­tion be­fore the 2018 elec­tion.

“We are for lo­cal au­ton­omy when it comes to get­ting un­funded man­dates,” Griffith said. As an ex­am­ple, she said the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion ad­vo­cates uni­ver­sal pre-K, “but they haven’t talked about where the money’s com­ing from.”

“The fund­ing for­mula is a prob­lem, and to be hon­est with all of you, we have a real prob­lem here in Tal­bot County,” Griffith said. “We have a tax rev­enue cap. Let’s see if I can ex­plain this. Tal­bot County’s prop­erty taxes are the low­est in the state of Mary­land, which is good; I’m not say­ing we need high taxes. It’s a good thing, but we only pay 50 cents per 100 as­sessed. The next county up is a dol­lar-some­thing.”

“So we are so low with prop­erty taxes, but here’s the prob­lem. It’s fine to have low prop­erty taxes, but the county has a res­o­lu­tion in place that says they can only col­lect prop­erty taxes at ei­ther 2 per­cent or the con­sumer price index, whichever is lower,” Griffith said.

“When they put that in place many years ago, the CPI was 4, 5 or 7 per­cent, and peo­ple’s taxes were go­ing up. But now the CPI is .7 per­cent, but the county is only col­lect­ing rev­enue at .7 per­cent,” Griffith said.

“The prob­lem is, the county is strap­ping it­self with rev­enue, and they’re not able to keep up with their county ser­vices. They’re not able to give their sher­iff’s de­part­ment their money for raises, they’re not able to give their emer­gency man­age­ment the money they need, they’re not able to fund pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion more than main­te­nance of ef­fort. So they’re get­ting caught be­tween a rock and a hard place,” Griffith said.

Griffith said she has “had con­ver­sa­tions with the county coun­cil, and they’re will­ing to go with us to a res­o­lu­tion to give it at least 2 per­cent, so that they’re get­ting more rev­enue to be able to take care of their com­mu­nity ser­vices. The com­mu­nity is go­ing to have to reg­is­ter to vote and come out and vote in 2018.”

The so­lu­tion, Griffith said, is to take the CPI out of the for­mula with­out rais­ing the tax rev­enue cap.

Griffith said 75 per­cent of ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing “comes from our county be­cause we’re a rich county — I don’t know how that’s de­fined — whereas in Caro­line County, 25 per­cent comes from their county (and) 75 per­cent comes from the state. So we do take a big chunk of the county coun­cil’s money, but quite frankly, I can’t think of a bet­ter thing to spend it on than ed­u­ca­tion. I re­ally can’t. It’s a pri­or­ity; our chil­dren are a pri­or­ity. We’re pre­par­ing the work force.”

When the town hall con­cluded, Tal­bot County Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Andy Burke said a “coali­tion of aware­ness” had formed, made up of “pub­lic ser­vants of Tal­bot County (who) are show­ing sup­port for a 2 per­cent prop­erty tax cap so prop­erty own­ers can bud­get for that and ex­pect it. We do a darn good job de­liv­er­ing for our pub­lic schools, pub­lic safety, roads.” he said.

“(The tax cap) caused us to be un­der­funded when the 1 per­cent COLA (cost of liv­ing ad­just­ment) was re­moved,” Burke said. “We’re see­ing staff bur­dened with seven job ti­tles at cen­tral of­fice, whereas other lo­cal coun­ties have one job, one per­son, which is ideal for our stu­dents when it comes to pub­lic ser­vices.”

KELLY GRIFFITH

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