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Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C) shares her concerns about the funding formula recommended to the full Kirwan Commission during an information session at Worcester County Public Library – Ocean Pines Branch on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

(Nov. 8, 2019) The disproportionate funding formula and lack of local control from the Kirwan Commission, formally known as the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, returned as hot topics during the Kirwan Commission input meeting on Tuesday night at the Worcester County Library – Ocean Pines Branch. 

The Worcester County Commissioners, Worcester County Board of Education, the Teachers and Educational Support Personnel Associations and State Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) took the opportunity to discuss how Maryland’s proposed education funding formula could affect Worcester County public schools and tax-payers. 

The funding formula work group for the Kirwan Commission released recommended numbers on Oct. 15 for each Maryland county to support a multi-million-dollar revamping of the state’s education requirements.

The recommendations stated that Worcester County should provide an additional $5.3 million on its schools for 2030 and a state contribution growth of $7 million for a combined $12.3 million increase in 2030 school spending. 

This funding is based on property tax base and income tax totals. These numbers will be phased in over 10 years, with the first two years being paid for by the state. The funding formula is still subject to change by the full Kirwan Commission and the Maryland General Assembly. 

Lou Taylor, superintendent for Worcester County Public Schools, addressed each of the commission’s five recommendations: free full-day preschool for 3-and-4-year-olds living at 300 percent below the property level, higher salaries for teachers, regulated college and career readiness standards, vocational education, and allocated funding for counties on a sliding scale.

He noted that the county’s public schools already do a great job of meeting those needs and that the county already funds 80 percent of the board of education’s budget. Taylor added that he did agree with many of the Kirwan Commission’s goals and education recommendations.

“It also seems to me that these recommendations are designed to bring other counties in the state up to the Worcester County level of performance and success,” Taylor said. “With this in mind, it is my hope that the legislators will allow us to continue local control of educational decision for our students, otherwise I know many of our other local priorities could take a back seat to state mandates designed for lower performing county school systems.”

Harold Higgins, chief administrative officer for Worcester County, confirmed that the county does provide $91 million, or over 80 percent of the board of education’s costs due to the maintenance of effort law, which mandates that counties maintain or exceed per pupil funding from year to year.

He added that Worcester’s maintenance of effort is to grow from $91 million to $113.7 million by fiscal 2030, and if the recommendations to Kirwan are accepted as is, that number will grow to a projected $119.1 million.

Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino emphasized his frustration that Worcester provides more funds to its board of education than most,, if not all, Maryland jurisdictions.

Though he said he sees the benefit of providing that funding toward education, he said he is concerned about having room in the county budget for other projects that are not education-related. 

“By comparison, local taxpayers in the neighboring counties of Wicomico and Somerset fund only about 20 percent of their respective board of education budgets,” Bertino said. “How is that fair?”

The funding formula for neighboring Wicomico County would result in it  receiving an additional $73.8 million from the state, while the local contribution will grow by $9.4 million. According to Bertino, another troubling fact was that at the during the Oct. 8 forum at Wor-Wic Community College, Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan, after whom the commission was named, said that during slow economic periods, state funding for the mandated could ease.

“This ambiguity is troublesome because during the most recent lengthy economic downturn, state highway user allocations to counties were slashed dramatically, never to return fully,” Bertino said. “That is just one example of the state cutting local funding and/or foisting state budget items to the counties. Would Worcester be susceptible to unfunded mandates?”

Carozza, who was appointed to the full Kirwan Commission this spring, said her three concerns were determining local affordability, a fair funding formula and local control.

“The point that I’ve been trying to make to my colleagues on the overall Kirwan Commission – why don’t we give the local jurisdictions as much flexibility to take what they believe they need from these recommendations in those five areas, and tailor it to where we have the voids, where we have the needs in our own local jurisdictions, and tailor that with affordability,” Carozza said.

She added that she also agrees with the commissioner’s goals for improved education, but disagrees with the unfair funding formula.

Another mistake she emphasized was lack of transparency, and cited as evidence the funding work group’s denial of her request to attend an executive session it held on Sept. 19.

“We’re hiding behind complex funding formulas,” Carozza said.

Carozza added that she didn’t think that the recommendations on learning environment and teacher authority went far enough. She used as an example a student being expelled or suspended, but then getting sent back to school after a short time. 

“A message could be sent that when a teacher tried to address the situation and there were no consequences to that behavior, that they may limit the teacher’s authority,” Carozza said. “Some of what I’m raising are hard issues because it’s going into state policies that I think we should have a discussion with at the Maryland state school board.”

The next meeting for the full Kirwan Commission is Nov. 12. Carozza encouraged constituents to attend a separate evening meeting, also on Nov. 12, for public comment in Annapolis.

The commission will hold another meeting on Nov. 21. And is expected to finish its work by Dec. 1. The final recommendations will be sent to the 2020 session of the Maryland General Assembly for a decision on how to proceed.

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