“The bottom line is we have to work within the revenue that we have, whether it is state, federal, local,” Superintendent Barbara Baker said. “So the overarching strategic issue is to address flat-to-declining revenue in what we call an inflationary environment. Healthcare goes up, salaries go up. How are we going to address that administratively?”
This was a powerful question raised during discussion surrounding an update of the school system’s RISE Strategic Plan. Top priorities include ensuring course offerings and programs to prepare students for their post-education lives, keeping class sizes at optimal levels, and addressing an increase in disruptive behavior at all grade levels.
Treading water can only last for so long before exhaustion kicks in and a swimmer drowns – this being a metaphor not unlike what the school board is currently facing. As operating costs go up, so must the budget to maintain or to keep pace, providing an increasingly competitive, quality education to which Garrett County students and parents are accustom.
“One strategy is working with the revenue that we get,” said Board of Education member, Nathan Sorber. “The other is engaging with our partners — the county commissioners, for example — for them to look at local funding at a heightened level beyond the 'minimum maintenance of effort' to be able to support and maintain the schools we have."
Following the June 4 presentation of the fiscal year 2019 county budget, the commissioners may need to do some juggling or consider a tax increase that's earmarked to protect the local school system. The "minimum maintenance of effort" is just as it sounds. No supplemental funding is being allocated to the local school system beyond the state-mandated minimum requirement.
“This is the moment we need the commissioners…and conversations about what a slight increase above minimum maintenance of effort in a three-year period would mean toward schools’ sustainability and footprint in our communities,” he said.
Garrett County government has done a good job at keeping the tax rate level for the past 20 years, however, when the pillars of a community begin to crack under the weight of financial stresses, measures may need to be taken.
A minimal annual tax increase across the county could generate significant additional funding for special circumstances. The question is, would Garrett County residents be willing to pony-up to prevent school closings, maintain teaching staff, and prioritize education for their community's families? Rather than assuming a tax rate freeze is a top priority for area residents, perhaps it's time the commissioners ask if a modest allocated increase would sit well with tax-payers.
Studies have shown a direct return on investment with education. Good schools increase real estate prices, foster more productive, responsible youth, and feed into local commerce. Students enjoy the life-long benefits from a good education that earns them better wages and prepares them for more fulfilling careers.