With recent revelations by Governor-elect Hogan of a $300 million deficit in the current state budget, and another $600 million looming in the 2016 budget, money is suddenly much tighter than budget makers and politicians would have expected just a few short weeks ago.
In Carroll County, recent Commissioner and Board of Education races were won almost entirely by candidates who ran on spending more on education. There was huge debate over the past two budget seasons when Commissioner Frazier and Commissioner Rothschild tried to stem the increases in county education spending. The argument from teachers’ unions was that the county must make up the shortfall from the state’s portion of funding which reduces as the student population reduces. How much will the county be asked to make up if the state has spending cuts which have additional impact on education spending? Not an impossible scenario, given the size of the deficits which are coming to light.
This past spring the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to put $2 million dollars into a fund for a new school in the northwestern part of the county; a fraction of the money which will be needed. Commissioners Howard, Shoemaker and Roush argued that the remaining money would come largely from the state school construction budget. In October, however, Montgomery County Public School Superintendent Joshua Starr spoke to parents and teachers about the problems they are having with mass overcrowding in their schools. While Carroll’s schools sit partially empty, Montgomery County’s school population is growing at a rate almost equivalent to one new high school a year. Montgomery County schools are bursting at the seams. Starr is asking the Montgomery County Council to add an additional $220.8 million to their capital construction budget. They hope this additional funding will come from the state.
So, our newly elected officials are faced with record shortfalls in the state budget and stiff competition for limited school construction money. The prospects that Commissioners Howard, Shoemaker and Roush, and Commissioners-elect Wantz, Frazier and Weaver, may be able to keep their promises to spend more on education seem remote. If Governor-elect Hogan cuts taxes and spending the first to feel the pinch will be county governments which rely on state funding to help shoulder many costs, including schools.
Is the honeymoon over before it ever began for the incoming Board of Commissioners?