Talbot educators offer new funding solution
— 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.”