Reduction at county level could reduce state funding as well
At least most of us agree–the North East branch of the Cecil County Public Library needs a new building. Yay, for agreement!
We also seem to be in agreement about the chosen location for the new library–the North East Station shopping center that is anchored by Food Lion and Lowes. Another cheer for agreement!
One thing we can’t seem to agree on is the amount of funding the county should provide for the construction of the new library. Boo for disagreement but without it I’d only be able to write about sunshine and rainbows–and that gets boring after a while.
Right now there is a wide divide between the projected cost from library system and the amount of funding some members of the Cecil County Council have proposed for the project.
Why does North East need a new library?
The North East library was built in 1991 and is just 2,800 sq. ft., far smaller than acceptable for a library serving a community the size of North East. You can read more here
Limitations of current branch
Only 12 parking spaces
Only a handful of computers which means visitors sometimes must wait 30 minutes or more for their turn
Only two study tables, one for adults and one for children
Limitations severely impact the library’s youngest patrons
According to a representative of the library, for every 3 children who participate in the Summer Reading and Learning Program in Elkton, only 1 child participates in North East. Every year, hundreds of children are closed out of library educational programs and classes in North East due to lack of space. Area schools are forced to transport students to other libraries to work on research projects because they simply cannot fit a class in the building and because resources are limited.
Population growth of 50% projected by 2040
We want to build a library of a size that adequately serves not just the current population of the area but one that can sufficiently meet the needs of a growing community. Cecil County made the mistake of constructing an undersized building for the current building and the library was too small from the day it opened.
We can’t afford to make that mistake again. We must do it right the first time–or would this be the second time?
The Wilmington Area Planning Council projects the population of the greater North East area to grow 50% by 2040 (from 23,259 in 2010 to 34,862 in 2040). Here’s a link to their data According to the state of Maryland’s standards for library construction, a library branch to serve a community of this size should be 30,000 sq. ft.
New North East branch would become new system headquarters
CCPL is currently headquartered in the same building as the Elkton branch, a building of 25,000 sq. ft. Elkton’s population is a little bigger than North East’s right now and is also expected to increase by about 50% by 2040 so it won’t be long before the branch needs to use every bit of those 25,000 sq. ft. in order meet the community’s needs.
Moving the headquarters to the new North East branch extends the useful life of the Elkton branch by making more space available for public services and alleviating the overflowing parking lot. (CCPL is also working with Cecil County Public Schools to increase available parking at the Elkton branch as part of the Gilpin Manor Elementary School replacement project.)
During last Thursday’s county council deliberations over the FY 2017 budget, Councilman Dan Schneckenberger proposed that the council limit Cecil County’s contribution to the project to $12.8 million. You can listen to the debate in the audio from the meeting (1:39:00 mark in this recording). Here’s an article from the Cecil Whig about the meeting.
Funding Cuts Jeopardize State Aid
I’m new to the library budget but it’s my understanding that, like public schools, large capital projects for public libraries must also be reviewed and approved at the state level in order to be considered eligible for state grant funding. State aid for these projects represents millions of dollars of funding and is contingent on presenting a well-justified project that uses universal planning standards and population projections to size the building, as well as accurate cost projections that are reviewed annually by a licensed architect.
The state of Maryland has already reviewed the initial documents and cost projections for the North East branch as proposed by CCPL and County Executive Tari Moore in the CIP. At this point, alterations to the project, which would potentially bring it out of compliance with state standards, risk that support for the project.
Email the county now and voice your support for the project as proposed
The county council is scheduled to vote on the FY 2017 budget for Cecil County on Tuesday night. If we want to see the North East branch proceed as proposed, we need to make our voices heard by the county administration.
Here are ways you can contact the council:
Copy and paste these email addresses: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Attend and speak at the Citizens’ Corner session with the County Council at 6 PM Tuesday evening
Calvert Regional Park is a Cecil County Parks and Recreation facility being built in phases on Brick Meeting House Rd. near the intersection with RT 273.
There is little disagreement that the park is beautiful and should be a source of pride. It’s home to Cecil County’s first artificial turf playing field as well as 9 additional fields and a walking trail.
Cecil County Parks and Recreation has the lowest per capita funding in the state of Maryland
I have always been supportive of Cecil County Parks and Rec, in fact, I emailed Cecil County Executive Tari Moore and the county council on May 7, 2013 to support the department’s annual budget request:
…CCPR offers a wide range of activities at price levels that are accessible to many residents. I’m impressed with the work Cecil County has done to provide facilities especially in these down economic times…
Three years later, CCPR continues to offer programs at fees that are significantly lower than similar nearby programs and is another example of a Cecil County department doing more with less.
How much less?
Cecil County spends only $9 per person per year on parks and recreation programs–the lowest per capita spending in the state of Maryland! The statewide average is $99.
To summarize what I’ve said so far: Yay, Cecil County Parks and Rec! You’re doing the best you can with the meager funding you’ve received.
Now, let’s talk about the points that we may disagree on.
Comments from the Cecil County Budget Hearing
Last week the citizens of Cecil County had an opportunity to share our thoughts with the Cecil County Council about the proposed budget for FY 2017. It was the smallest crowd I’ve seen for a budget hearing in the last few years but it was also held considerably later than in years past and was scheduled for the Thursday before Memorial Day so I’m sure families were busy making plans for the long weekend or attending the many little league games that have had to be postponed during this soggy spring.
Some of the usual groups attended and advocated for funding for Cecil College, the Cecil County Public Library, and Cecil County Public Schools. We gave our usual remarks and even joked on our way out about the frustration of having to say essentially the same thing every year with little change in behavior from the county.
At the end of my allotted time, I talked about Calvert Park, I asserted that no more money should be invested in the park until the more pressing needs of the county have been met.
The powers that be in Cecil County have watched the school system’s deferred maintenance list balloon to $44 million over the last decade. Now the county appears to be willing to put the department of public works on a similarly destructive path by slashing its budget by $2.4 million, including the elimination of $1 million of paving. Here’s a post about that.
As long as Cecil County can’t adequately fund necessities like schools, roads, and law enforcement, it has no business investing more money in Calvert Park.
As long as the existing playing fields at our schools are either bare or nothing but weeds, no more money should be invested in constructing additional playing fields at a facility that many kids in our county will never have the opportunity to play on.
Facts about the Calvert Regional Park project
Here are the facts I’ve dug up about the Calvert Park project.
While there are few details of the project in the CIP, here’s how it was described in a November 19, 2015 article from the Cecil Guardian:
“…enhancing the already popular trail in the park, adding two more playing to the current ten fields at the park, a dog park, and additional parking.”
Did you get that? Paving at one facility in the entire county but cutting the budget for paving county roads…and a dog park. I love dogs; our giant beast of a mutt nearly smothers me every night but Cecil County is a long way from being able to afford a dog park.
A few additional facts about Calvert Park
One of the main justifications for developing Calvert Park the possibility of drawing large sports tournaments to the area. Phrases like “sports tourism” and the promise of “economic revitalization” have been tossed around as supporters grasped to justify the project.
Here’s one problem:
A privately funded sports complex is being built 15 miles away in Middletown, DE–an area that already has the tourism infrastructure required to host a large tournament like hotels and restaurants. Here’s an article with more information
A full-sized indoor turf field with seating for 1,000
That’s way out of our league. In sporting terms, that facility will be the equivalent of the show and we’ll be playing single A ball.
Project Benefits One Area of the County
Since my sons are older teens, I thought neither of them would eever have the opportunity to play on the only turf field in the county because it’s padlocked shut. Fortunately or unfortunately, Perryville High School hosted the UCBAC track and field meet on our new track on the same day our boys’ lacrosse team was required to play a playoff game. An arrangement was worked out that allowed Perryville High School and Bohemia Manor High School to play on the turf at Calvert Park.
Calvert Park is a beautiful facility and those who can travel there will continue to enjoy it but it won’t be the huge economic driver some in the county are hoping for.
North East and Rising Sun will see some economic activity from the facility but towns farther away like Perryville and Elkton will see little economic benefit.
Where’s the casino money? I think part of it is going to Calvert Park
Ah, the casino money (video lottery terminals, in political speak). Aside from the portion the County awards through the annual grant program and the amount the town of Perryville receives, I haven’t spent much time thinking about where Cecil County spends the rest of the money.
Until I started looking at the county’s CIP…
A chunk of the casino money is going to the Calvert Park project:
By the time the project is completed, $853,000 of the VLT funds funds will have been spent there. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with using part of the revenue from the casino on such a project, however, it appears to be the only capital project that is planned to receive funding from that source in FY 2017, at least as far as I can tell from the CIP.
The Cecil County Council Deliberates on the FY 2017 Budget today and votes on Tuesday
The Cecil County budget will be finalized in the next few days. I encourage you to contact our county representatives with your opinions on the budget.
Here are email addresses to copy and paste: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
While I’m a vocal advocate for public education, I also expect the county to adequately fund the other operations that are necessary for modern society. Emergency services, public works, law enforcement are just some of the departments and activities that are critical to the future of our county.
Thumbing through my dog-eared copy of the FY 2017 Proposed Budget in Brief, I was shocked to see the budget for the Cecil County Department of Public Works reduced by $2.4 million next year. Click here to read it for yourself
“The Department of Public Works is proposed to be funded for FY 17 at$ 9,698,038, a decrease of $2,376,304, or 19.7% versus FY 16, largely due to decreased funding support for road overlay.”
The budget specifically notes a $1.8 million reduction in the Roads Maintenance budget, a 46.1% decrease compared to the FY 2016 Revised Budget. (page 17)
Has road maintenance gotten cheaper?
Are our roads in such great shape that few need paving and repair this year?
The $2.1 million proposed for Roads Maintenance is significantly lower than the actual costs in FY 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and the 2016 Year to Date Actual Costs of $2,830,351 (per the FY 2017 Expenditures Budget Report posted on the county website. There isn’t a date on the document so I’m not sure how much of the year’s expenses are actually represented).
And represents a 100% reduction in “Asphalt Overlay.” One million dollars for road paving–the entire budget for that line item–cut.
I’m a little surprised that there hasn’t been a peep from the council, the media, or the public questioning the proposal to cut road paving in 2017.
We’ve seen how such draconian and short sighted spending cuts have damaged our school infrastructure. Cecil County Public Schools and, therefore, the citizens of Cecil County are now facing a list of deferred maintenance projects totaling $44 million because of the county goverment’s decision to not adequately fund capital improvements at our schools.
Can we afford to have the same thing happen to our transportation infrastructure?
It’s not too late. The council will be deliberating on the budget in the coming week and will vote on June 7.
Email the county council and administration and share your thoughts with them.
Here are email addresses to copy and paste: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
If you had $1.8 million, what would you do?
It’s been nearly 8 weeks since Cecil County Executive Tari Moore introduced her proposed budget for FY 2017 and I’ve hardly posted a word about it. I’m sure some were hoping that I’d overlooked the fact that the Cecil County Council will be finalizing the budget in these next two weeks in advance of their vote on the final budget on June 7. I may have been distracted by an ugly county primary election and the high school lacrosse season but the bigger reason for not posting anything about the budget was that I have such mixed emotions about it.
Yes, there are positive parts of the budget for Cecil County Public Schools but there are parts of the budget that are disappointing for our school system, its employees, and the families and communities it serves.
Since the proposed budget was introduced at a press conference on April 1, I was holding out hope that it was an elaborate April Fool’s prank.
Unfortunately, after waiting 8 weeks for the “gotcha!” I’ve now got to face the facts.
The Good–Continuing the renewed commitment to large capital projects
Prior to the introduction of the FY 2016 budget last spring, it took herculean effort to secure funding from Cecil County for CCPS-related projects, most notably the new Cecil County School of Technology and the renovation of Perryville Elementary School. And without the county funding its share of additional large capital projects, the state of Maryland wouldn’t provide funding for its share of the projects. This meant that Cecil County missed out on potentially millions of dollars of capital projects during those years–basically “leaving money on the table” that the state would end up sending to other school systems.
During down economic times in Cecil County, those additional funds had the potential to change the lives of local tradespeople employed on infrastructure projects.
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore surprised many with her FY 2016 budget. For those of us advocating for public education, it was a pleasant surprise that included the funds for planning the replacement of Gilpin Manor Elementary School and a commitment to fund the planning of new school every two years.
Once planning funds were secured, CCPS set out designing not just the new Gilpin Manor school, but also developing those plans as a prototype for the Chesapeake City Elementary School replacement. Another example of CCPS leadership having the foresight and resourcefulness to make the most cost effective use of county funding.
The proposed FY 2017 continues the commitment to large capital projects for our schools. In addition to the final year’s funding for the extensive renovation of Perryville Elementary School, the proposed FY 2017 budget includes three significant new projects for CCPS:
Gilpin Manor Elementary School
With the plans for GMES nearly completed and approved at all levels, funding needed to be secured to begin construction. The county executive’s proposed budget includes $4.1 million in funding for the first year of construction. Additionally, CCPS was notified earlier this month that the state of Maryland approved nearly $4 million for towards its share of the project. This would be the first completely new school in the county since Rising Sun High School and Elk Neck Elementary School in 1991. Here’s the story from the Cecil Whig
The proposed budget includes the county’s share of funding for boiler replacement projects at Bohemia Manor Middle/High School, Kenmore Elementary School, Cherry Hill Middle School, and Thomson Estates Elementary School. These projects were also recently approved to receive the state’s share of the necessary funding.
Chesapeake City Elementary School
The current Chesapeake City Elementary School was built in 1939 and lacks many features of a modern educational facility. The FY 2017 budget includes $900,000 to purchase the land necessary for the project.
The Bad–Minimal, er, maintenance of effort for the operating budget
My husband doesn’t follow the school budget process closely so our conversation that night after Tari Moore’s press conference to introduce her proposed budget went like this.
“What’s it called again–minimal effort?”
“Close enough and probably more accurate. It’s maintenance of effort.”
“Why did they even pretend to prepare a budget for the school system if they were just going to plug numbers into a formula and call it done?”
“My thoughts exactly. Do the quick math and ‘Voila, budget!'”
Contrary to what you might have read from various sources, including candidates for board of education, maintenance of effort is not a formula for adequate school funding. Instead, it’s a state law that provides a formula for the minimum funding a county can provide to its schools and was enacted to prevent a county from drastically and routinely underfunding public education.
“…the county governing body shall appropriate local funds to the school operating budget in an amount no less than the product of the county’s full–time equivalent enrollment for the current fiscal year and the local appropriation on a per pupil basis for the prior fiscal year.” Md. EDUCATION Code Ann. § 5-202
There are quite a few expenses that are not covered in the maintenance of effort formula yet are still the county’s responsibility. For example, the formula doesn’t provide any funding for pre-kindergarten students or take into account the added expenses associated with special education services even though these programs are required by law.
While there are a few situations where a county can request a waiver to fund its schools below the maintenance of effort, such requests must be approved by the state and are not taken lightly.
The FY 2016 budget felt like a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel for our school system. It included money to create a handful of sorely needed new positions, mainly in the area of special education. These new positions replace just a fraction of the jobs that had been cut in the last decade due to lack of funding. It also provided for cost of living and step increases for employees, expenses that are necessary to keep pay scales competitive with those in neighboring systems, both instate and out of state. As Superintendent Dr. D’ette Devine pointed out, “Pennsylvania loves to get teachers that we’ve trained,” but who leave our county for higher pay.
The CCPS FY 2017 budget request included 29 new positions:
Special education teachers and paraprofessionals
Music & art teachers
Drug education & student services teachers (to assist students who are dealing with the social issues in our communities)
Instructional coaches (The state requires that all new teachers be mentored for their first several years. I believe there are currently only two mentors serving the entire county.)
Unfortunately, a maintenance of effort budget allows for few, if any, of those positions to be added.
Finally, let’s rip the Band-aid off and talk about the County Executive’s proposed small capital budget.
Small capital projects are those that are too expensive to cover from the operating budget yet do not meet the criteria of large capital projects. These projects are not eligible for state funding and are solely the county’s responsibility. Few projects have been funded in recent years and I was hopeful that we would see an end to that trend.
Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
The county’s failure to provide adequate funding for improvements at our schools is well documented:
Cecil County has watched the CCPS deferred maintenance list balloon to $44 million over the last decade yet it has no plan for completing the projects on the list. At some point, the county needs to stop waiting for the Deferred Maintenance Fairy to arrive on the wave of some kind of miraculous economic boom. Hope is not a plan.
During the county executive’s press conference to announce her proposed budget for FY 2017, I asked about the small capital budget:
You can listen to it in this recording starting at the 18:00 minute mark. Here’s a transcript:
ME: (inaudible)…small cap budget…
CRAIG WHITEFORD (former Cecil County budget manager) : …For the public school system. Within the confines of our entire budgetary document, not just the budget in brief, although I think we did make mention of the small cap, I can just tell you. In the small cap for the public school system, it was Rising Sun High tennis courts and the associated basketball court.
WINSTON ROBINSON (finance director)/TARI MOORE: Along with the BTOP and Johnson Controls contract.
ME: And the other things like the cooling tower at Perryville?
WHITEFORD: They’re not proposed to be funded in the proposed budget [MOORE: That’s correct.] at this time.
ME: And if there’s a failure is the county prepared for such an event?
WHITEFORD: Well just like we do any time when something is proposed in the confines of a budget, we make ourselves available. It’s not as if the conversations occur after that type of thing would happen. Thoes conversations are ongoing. Our lines of communication remain open and we work together to try to meet the special needs as they occur so we’ll continue to do that.
Essentially, the vibe I got from the conversation was “Good luck, CCPS! You’re on your own (again).”
The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and Energy Performance Contract are the first two line items in the prioritized list CCPS provided to the county executive and they must be funded. The county can decide which pocket they’d like to use to fund those line items, but they must be funded.
The only other small capital project funded in the proposed budget? The replacement of the tennis courts and basketball courts at Rising Sun High School–a project that is sorely needed but is 10th on the request.
That’s right. CCPS provided a prioritized list of projects with the replacement of a cooling tower as third on the list–only outranked by the BTOP and Energy Performance Contract–and Cecil County chose to disregard the recommendations from the tradespeople who inspect, maintain, and repair these facilities and instead make the political move to recommend improvements at Rising Sun High School.
Why would they do such a thing? I can only think that the county decided to put CCPS in the unenviable position of taking funding slated for athletic facilities at Rising Sun High School and using it, instead, for a critical infrastructure project at Perryville High School. You can’t just pull a cooling tower out of a warehouse and install it overnight. If that cooling tower failed before it could be replaced it would be completely disruptive to the students and staff at Perryville.
Once again, Cecil County pinned CCPS between a rock and hard place.
And, once again, CCPS rose to the occasion.
They announced at the most recent board of education meeting that the school system had received approval for a nearly $400,000 discount on the FY 2016 BTOP expense and was applying for a discount of nearly $450,000 on the FY 2017 expense. Additionally, there is a bill up for council approval on June 21 that would transfer $400,000 from BTOP to three capital projects:
Replacement of the cooling tower at Perryville High School
Installation of a new waterline at Cecil Manor Elementary School
Partial replacement of the galvanized plumbing at Bohemia Manor High School
Despite this bit of good news, there are still many projects that Cecil County will be forced to address at some point and there are still no plans for addressing them.
There’s still time to make a difference in the FY 2017 budget. Here’s how you can help:
Attend the budget hearing Thursday, May 26 at 7 PM at Elkton High School
Speak in support of education funding at an upcoming county council meeting. Here’s the meeting schedule.
Contact our county officials
To make it easier, just copy these email addresses and paste them into an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
If you are partial to mailing actual letters, send them to this address:
200 Chesapeake Blvd.
Elkton, MD 21921
Cecil County Executive
Cecil County Council
In my last post I hypothesized that there were candidates running for Cecil County Board of Education seats for reasons other than a desire to advocate for the education of the children of Cecil County. Here’s a link in case you missed it
In that post I provided screenshots that supported my theory from the candidates’ Facebook pages and included links to the actual posts on Facebook to further substantiate the facts.
Those screenshots were just the beginning.
While candidate Ron Lobos may have scrubbed his online presence clean since my last post, I took the time to capture some of his posts for posterity before they disappeared. I’d like to share some of those posts with you so you can see how they measure up against the laws and policies that he would be swearing to uphold if elected. (Anyone noticing the irony that the candidate crying for transparency from the board of education is deleting any comments that question the assertions he makes on his Facebook page?)
State Education Laws
Each newly elected member of the Cecil County Board of Education takes an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Maryland.
From the Md. EDUCATION Code Ann. § 4-101 (2016):
(b) Promotion of schools. — Each county board shall seek in every way to promote the interests of the schools under its jurisdiction.
“Just wondering Frances, if the County fully funded the budget requests for the CCPS, County Roads, Sheriff’s Department, Public Works, Libraries, and Parks and recreation, etc. for the last 5 years, what do you think our tax rate would be in Cecil County? It would be wonderful if we had an unlimited amount of money and we could just spend as much as we dream of, but this is not a dream. It is reality and every department must be treated fairly in a common sense fashion. I do not wish for the CCPS to be underfunded but I absolutely seek transparency.” Here’s a link to the page where these comments originally appeared–they have since been deleted. How very transparent of him.
The law makes no mention of board members advocating for other departments in the county yet Mr. Lobos is more concerned about the tax rate and budgets of other departments than funding the budget requests of the school system. These types of concerns are better addressed by positions in county government like county council or even county executive, not board of education.
Let’s look at another state law board of education members are accountable to:
§ 4-108. Duties in general (2) Maintain throughout its county a reasonably uniform system of public schools that is designed to provide quality education and equal educational opportunity for all children;
In the same conversation from February 21, a commenter posts:
“Choose to go to private schools as I do not (sic) anyone else paying for MY responsibilities. Paying for school is just like buying food and clothing for my kids. If you cannot afford kids, maybe they should not have them. I do not ask the public to feeds (sic) or clothe my kids and will not ask them to pay for their education since I choose not to do it myself.”
Did Mr. Lobos post a comment defending the rights of all students to free public education? No, he or someone responding for the Ron Lobos for Cecil County School Board clicked the “Like” button on the comment instead.
County Educational Policies
In addition to state laws and policies, board of education members are also accountable to policies at the county level.
From the Cecil County Boardmanship Standards Policy (Policy BBB)
Standards for Intra-Board Member Relationships
Members of the Board are expected to abide by the following standards in their relationships with each other when conducting business.
Make decisions based upon a desire to serve the students in Cecil County in the best possible way;
Represent the entire County, rather than individual election areas, groups or patrons;
The About section of Ron Lobos for Cecil County School Board states: “The average taxpayer has no representation within the board (only direct benefactors).” Since Mr. Lobos doesn’t provide a definition of the “average taxpayer” and the minor students of CCPS aren’t taxpayers, it doesn’t appear that he’s interested in representing them at all.
We must make informed decisions about our school board
Two board of education seats will be filled in this year’s election and the field for one seat will be narrowed to two candidates in next week’s primary election. If those seats are filled by candidates whose intentions are something other than advocating for free public education for all students in Cecil County, they could turn the board from the cooperative group that operates in a professional manner into a dysfunctional sideshow that distracts from the business of educating children.
To the uninformed voter (I admit I was a member of that group until recently), casting a vote for a board of education member may be a no-brainer. Since the positions are considered non-partisan, no party affiliation is noted next to the candidate’s name on the ballot.
Now what do you do? You can’t throw darts in a polling place. Do you do a quick eeny, meeny, miny, moe chant? Flip a quarter? Every person that runs for board of education is doing it because they support public education, right?
Not so fast.
This year there are two candidates running as the “Conservative Education Slate” for seats on the Cecil County Board of Education. Kevin Emmerich is running in District 1 (Chesapeake City) and Ron Lobos is running in District 2 (Elkton).
Unfortunately for Cecil County, it appears these two candidates are attempting to start a hostile takeover of the board of education.
The Cecil County Campaign for Liberty shared the Cecil Whig article about Mr. Lobos’ decision to run for board of education. In the comments below the story, Mr. Lobos posts:
“I’m going to need a lot of help and support, mostly after I’m elected. That’s where the rubber meets the road. This will be a process to turn things around fiscally where we will need a majority of conservatives. Please support Kevin Emmerick for school board in the 1st district. He is also a conservative and I will need him just to second a motion when going to bat. Kevin is a good man.”
Long before he filed to run for the board of education seat, Rob Lobos was an outspoken critic of CCPS. He routinely criticizes the school system at county council meetings, budget hearings, and town hall meetings and frequently shares his thoughts about CCPS on Facebook. Here’s one example:
“And now we have the CCPS asking her for an additional $8M that will be paid annually to them for the foreseeable future. Once again, Moore will make excuses for the CCPS and reward them for mismanaging their money.”
Now, he’s asking the citizens of Cecil County to elect him to a seat on the board of education.
What do Kevin Emmerich and Rob Lobos really think of our schools?
April 26 is primary day in Maryland. One might think “Oh, it’s just a primary. I don’t need to vote,” and in some years that may be the case.
But not this year.
The primary election in Cecil County has real consequences for the future of our county–especially for our schools where two of the five seats on the Cecil County Board of Education are up for election.
Structure of the Cecil County Board of Education
The board of education is comprised of five districts and members are elected by the county at large. Board members are elected on a non-partisan basis per state law so no party affiliation is listed on ballots. Terms last four years and a member can serve two terms.
Much of the work of the board of education is governed by Maryland state law and, once elected, board members take an oath to operate in accordance with state laws.
Md. EDUCATION Code Ann. § 4-108 (2016)
§ 4-108. Duties in general
Each county board shall:
To the best of its ability carry out the applicable provisions of this article and the bylaws, rules, regulations, and policies of the State Board;
Maintain throughout its county a reasonably uniform system of public schools that is designed to provide quality education and equal educational opportunity for all children;
Subject to this article and to the applicable bylaws, rules, and regulations of the State Board, determine, with the advice of the county superintendent, the educational policies of the county school system; and
Adopt, codify, and make available to the public bylaws, rules, and regulations not inconsistent with State law, for the conduct and management of the county public schools.
The following specific duties and powers of the Board are enumerated in Title 4 of the Education Article:
Required to maintain throughout Cecil County a reasonably uniform system of public schools designed to provide quality education and equal educational opportunity for all youth.
Appoint a County Superintendent of Schools who shall serve as the executive officer, the secretary, and the treasurer of the Board.
Determine the educational policies with the advice of the Superintendent. The Board is subject to statutory law and to bylaws, rules and regulations of the State Board of Education.
Prescribe rules and regulations for the conduct and management of the schools.
Establish schools subject to the approval of the State Superintendent of Schools and determine the geographical attendance areas for all schools with the advice of the County Superintendent.
May establish and maintain day and evening schools for adults.
Hold property vested in the Board.
Purchase or otherwise acquire grounds, school sites or buildings, or rent, repair, improve and construct school buildings.
Employ an architect or architects.
Secure the services of attorneys at law to represent the Board when deemed necessary by the Board.
Establish such advisory committees as the Board deems necessary.
Acquire land for the site of a school or for enlarging a school site for playgrounds or for other school purposes by instituting condemnation proceedings in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.
Arrange for transportation of pupils subject to applicable laws and bylaws.
Appoint, on the written recommendation of the County Superintendent, all principals, teachers and all other certificated personnel and fix their salaries subject to the provisions of Section 6-201 of the Education Article.
Establish, upon the written recommendation of the County Superintendent of Schools and subject to the provisions of the Education Article and regulations of the State Board of Education, curriculum guides and courses of study including appropriate programs for mentally and physically handicapped children.
Cause to be taken, under the direction of the County Superintendent, a school census.
May enter into agreements with the County Commissioners for the cooperative or joint administration of programs.
Appoint during the month of February, a Superintendent of Schools for a term of four (4) years beginning the first day of July next succeeding the appointment. (This appointment must be approved by the State Superintendent of Schools.)
Enter into contracts validated by the written approval of the County Superintendent of Schools.
Suspend or dismiss certificated personnel in accordance with the provisions of applicable law and bylaws of the State Board of Education.
Prepare a budget with the advice of the County Superintendent of Schools.
Have all accounts audited and made public.
Make reports to the State Board of Education.
Have Annual Report prepared and published.
Cause the American flag to be displayed in each school during school hours.
Provide and equip the Office of County Superintendent.
Provide such means of transportation as are necessary for the effective and efficient performance of the official duties of the Superintendent and her professional assistants.
Upon the recommendation of the County Superintendent, adopt procedures for the selection and purchase of textbooks and other school supplies.
Establish policies for promotion and graduation of pupils, subject to rules and regulations of the State Board of Education.
With the assistance of the County Health Department, provide adequate school health services and instruction in health.
NOTE: The list above is descriptive, but is not all inclusive in detail.
Candidates for Board of Education in Cecil County
In District 1 (Chesapeake City), current board of education member and former county commissioner William Manlove is running for re-election against Kevin Emmerich. In District 2 (Elkton), current board of education member Lauren Camphausen is completing her second term and is not eligible for re-election. Her seat is being contested by Erin Doordan, Jim Fazzino, and Ron Lobos. According to election laws, the two candidates for District 1 will compete in the general election and the three candidates for District 2 will be narrowed to two in the primary and those two will compete against each other in the general election.
How important can a board of education election be?
In the last two years, I’ve learned just how critical it is to have a board of education that works well as a team and with the administration. The board of education meetings I’ve attended might not have been exciting but they were professional and productive and I’ve never doubted the intentions of the participants.
I can’t say the same for all the candidates running for board of education.
Your vote counts in this election
Regardless of our party affiliation, we all need to vote in the primary on April 26. (Early voting runs from 4/14/16-4/21/16) But before you vote, learn more about the candidates’ intentions and motivations for running for board of education.
If your child is in the Perryville High School “feeder pattern,” (which means he or she attends or will attend Perryville High School. This includes students attending Charlestown, Bainbridge, Conowingo, and Perryville Elementary schools and Perryville Middle School), it’s time for us to speak out together in support of capital projects that are critical needs at the school.
This year’s CCPS small capital budget request to County Executive Tari Moore includes several projects for Perryville High School. Some are long overdue, others have escalated in priority since last year’s budget. Regardless, if we don’t advocate for these projects on behalf of the school, there is little chance they will be included in Tari Moore’s proposed budget for FY 2017.
The list of projects in the capital budget request is prioritized by the board of education with those at the top of the list deemed the most pressing.
County-funded Projects Requested for Perryville High School
Cooling tower–Cost $150,000
A component of the air conditioning system, it was not included in budget requests in recent years but is now third on the list, behind only two multi-year projects. This is probably a system you want to maintain and replace on a schedule rather wait for it to fail at an inopportune time.
Tennis courts–Cost $200,000
Requested since the FY 2015 budget
Enhanced security at building entrance–Cost $250,000
The building is secure and visitors must be buzzed in the locked doors during the school day but, once a person comes in the front door, there is nothing to prevent them from traveling the short distance down the hallway into the cafeteria, auditorium, or gym. All spaces that are used by classes during the school day. Funding for security enhancements at Elk Neck Elementary, Elkton Middle, North East Middle, and Kenmore Elementary is also included in the FY 2017 capital budget request.
Field house–Cost $1,000,000
Perryville is the only high school in the county without a field house. I’m not sure why the county has refused to fund this project for so long but it’s become quite clear that the school won’t get one if we don’t speak out in support of it. In previous budgets, the cost of the field house project was estimated at $2,000,000. The cost in this budget is half that amount because CCPS decided to compromise and scale the building back in order to give it a better chance of being funded.
If you have ever said the words “Perryville needs field house,” I’m calling you out.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard people complain about the absence of a field house at Perryville in the five years I’ve spent on the sidelines of sporting events. With this being the last budget of County Executive Tari Moore’s administration and no clear leader in the election to replace her, this may be our best opportunity to get a field house in the foreseeable future.
Now is the time to speak up by emailing or calling our county officials. If you don’t take the time to participate in the conversation, you’re just whining.
Out of sight, Out of mind?
Two years ago, when I first spoke to the county council, at least one of the council members assumed that the building housing the snack shack, press box, and cramped bathrooms was our field house. (Are you done laughing yet?) Sitting in that meeting I realized that the council, and probably the county executive, were not familiar with the facilities at most of our schools and that’s when I started posting photos on this blog.
There aren’t that many schools in the system or in any one council member’s district, how is it acceptable that they haven’t visited at least most of them during their terms in office? It’s little wonder our young adults aren’t active in local politics when they have never heard of these officials or seen them on school property–even at graduation.
Officials rush to attend events with ribbon cuttings and reporters–they need to also show up at events like concerts, plays, and sports to see the good things happening in our community schools as well as the needs. When you don’t have to set foot on the properties that you’ve refused to maintain or improve or see the students who attend those schools, it’s easier to treat them as just another line item in a budget.
There are groups in this county who believe Cecil County should not fund ANY sports or athletic facilities at our public schools and they are vocal in their misguided thinking. In fact, this may be an issue that differentiates the candidates in our upcoming local elections.
What Can You Do?
Contact the County Executive and members of the County Council and encourage them to fund the small capital budget CCPS request. The county executive will present her proposed budget to the council on March 31 so we need to ACT NOW!
County Administration Building
200 Chesapeake Blvd., Suite 2110, Elkton, MD 21921
Every Cecil County budget cycle is a battle and this year will be even more contentious with a primary election on April 26 that will include fights for county executive, county council, and school board. This primary and the general election in November have the potential to change Cecil County for years to come and, so far, it’s not clear if that change will keep us moving forward in our uphill battle or send us crashing backwards to the ground.
Several of the candidates have said they will push Cecil County Public Schools to be more transparent with their financial reports and student test scores.
I’m not sure how CCPS could be more transparent in these areas.
Transparency of Cecil County Public Schools’ Financial Reports
Nearly all CCPS financial documents are easily found on the school system’s website. You don’t have to call anyone to request the documents, fill out any forms, or even create an online login. Just look for them and print them. Annual reports, budget request presentations, proposed annual budgets, and approved annual budgets back to FY 2006 are all available on the CCPS Budget page, free for anyone who wants to take the time to read them. If you don’t want to kill a tree, you can download them to your computer to read at another time.
Curious how the school system is doing month to month and against its annual budget?
CCPS chief financial officer Thomas Kappra presents year to date budget reports at the board of ed meetings. These reports compare the current year’s expenses and revenue to both the approved budget and last year’s actual results.
Can’t attend the board of education meeting?
If you can’t attend a board of education meeting you can still access the YTD budget reports via the CCPS Board Docs portal. Board Docs could be your favorite tool for researching the current events in the school system. Meeting agendas and supporting documents are posted on the site in advance of the meetings and other documents (mostly personnel-related) are posted after receiving board approval. Here’s a link to the FY 2016 Budget Update from the Feb. 8, 2016 meeting.
What types of supporting documents are posted on the CCPS website?
Aside from the budget updates, you can also find reports supporting purchasing activities, like bids and contracts on the website.
Dump Truck Purchase–CCPS purchased a used truck, previously owned by Cecil County Government, at auction. (Pause for a minute to let that sink in. The truck was supposedly too old for the county to keep but the school system had to buy it at auction. You would think there would be a way to transfer a cast-off vehicle between county agencies but that doesn’t appear to be the case.)
Medical Claim Audit Services–CCPS secured an outside auditor to review medical claims for FY 2014 and 2015 and evaluate them against industry and contractual standards. Such an audit is prudent because health care expenses for current and retired employees are one of the biggest line items in the CCPS budget.
Transparency of Cecil County Public Schools’ Test Results
I’ve also heard people calling for transparency with Cecil County’s test results. Fortunately for them, the Maryland Department of Education has already taken care of this by publishing test results, demographics, and other statistics for each local education agency (LEA) in the state on its Maryland Report Card website. There’s enough data here to keep you busy for days.
Pushing for more transparency makes a nice quote in the paper but the reality is that the information is already out there–just waiting for you to start sifting through it.
Prepare to Vote in the Primary 4/26/16
If you believe a strong school system is the foundation of a thriving community, please do your own research about the candidates in the upcoming primary election and come out to vote.
You don’t have to attend too many budget hearings or council meetings before you recognize the ceaseless cries of “The county needs to live within its means,” from a relatively small group who vocally demand that the county cut “out of control” spending. It’s like reciting lines from a bad movie you’ve seen many times but just can’t resist watching when it’s on TV.
Yawn. Until those demanding “fiscal conservatism” roll up their sleeves, start reading the financial documents, and cite specifics, these are just opinions. And you can’t effectively run a business, a county government, or a school system on opinions.
But we do agree on one point
Imagine how shocked I was to realize I agree with them on one point: Cecil County hasn’t been living within its means. For too long the county has been neglecting some of its obligations because it couldn’t figure out how to cover all of its expenses. Adequate schools, well-maintained roads, and properly equipped emergency services aren’t extravagances, they are the cost of living in modern society.
During last year’s budget season, there was hot debate over necessities: replacement AEDs OR emergency communications systems OR long neglected capital projects at county schools.
We aren’t choosing toppings for a pizza–it shouldn’t be an either/or decision. In many cases ALL the requests are necessary.
At different points in the last budget cycle, both County Executive Tari Moore and Council Member Alan McCarthy remarked that Cecil County needs to start addressing mandates that aren’t currently being met regarding emergency radio communications (deficiencies in that system made the news again this week), water treatment, and school services.
Cecil County, ALL of these items are our responsibility whether we individually agree with the mandate or not. It’s not a matter of IF we meet these needs, it’s a matter of how. The county can choose how it plans to comply with and fund these programs but they must be implemented.
Public school facilities in Maryland are overseen by the Board of Public Works (BPW), Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC), and the Public School Construction Program(PSCP) Those entities have a:
“…strong interest in the proper maintenance of Maryland’s public school facilities. For all types of facilities, the useful life of the structure is greatly extended through a preventive maintenance program that protects the asset and corrective maintenance activities that address emergent deficiencies. Good maintenance defers the need for repairs and major renovation, and reduces the cost of renovation when it is eventually needed. Regular maintenance ensures that the operation of the building, including its energy efficiency, will remain optimal even under adverse weather conditions. For schools in particular, good maintenance helps to protect the health of young students and establishes an environment in which the focus of administrators, teachers, and the students themselves can remain on learning, rather than on the building. “PSCP Annual Report
Each fall CCPS is required to prepare a Comprehensive Maintenance Plan (CMP) detailing the maintenance activities that are projected to occur in the next 10 years. CCPS is also required to prepare a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) detailing current and future major renovations and new buildings. The CMP and CIP must be submitted to the State Public School Construction Program for review and approval.
Projects on the deferred maintenance list are too costly to complete from funds in the annual maintenance budget and end up as part of the CCPS capital budget request. Unfortunately, few projects have received county funding in recent years so the list continues to grow as CCPS does the best it can to address projects on the list with the available funds or the projects expand to become a large capital request (like when “repair” becomes “replacement”).
“Five schools were inspected in January 2014. Original existing square footage at these schools dates from 1937 to 2005, with adjusted building ages ranging from 47 to 11 years at the time of inspection. All of the inspected schools were first constructed before 1980 and have received various additions and renovations. The survey results demonstrate the good maintenance practices and outstanding custodial care that the IAC has come to expect in Cecil County. The school receiving the lowest score and having the oldest adjusted age, the Cecil School of Technology, is scheduled to have its program moved in Fall 2015 to a newly renovated facility in Elkton, Maryland. This is significant because of the innovative approach CCPS took to meet their need for an expanded career and technology program: rather than building a new facility or renovating the existing school, they purchased and renovated a commercial research and development facility that came with a high-bay area, advanced science laboratories, conference space, and a sophisticated electrical system. The entire project cost considerably less than a replacement school. Sited in an industrial park, the building will facilitate alignments between the educational programs and industry sponsors.”
Small Capital Budget Requests Have Gone Unfunded
Now that we have some background on maintenance and capital improvements, let’s talk about the history of a few of the projects in the capital budget request.
The school system’s capital request is divided into the following categories:
Large capital projects which are funded jointly by the state and county
Small capital projects which are the responsibility of the county
Since the state provides roughly 60% of the funding for large capital projects, let’s focus on the small capital projects.
A Grand Slam of Dilapidated Tennis Courts
During the discussions for the FY 2016 Cecil County Budget, the sad state of the tennis courts at three high schools was a frequent topic. The CCPS budget request included $375,000 for the replacement of tennis courts at Rising Sun, Elkton, and North East High Schools. But these projects shouldn’t have been news to anyone following county budgets because tennis courts have been a part of the request for several years:
Rising Sun High School tennis courts
Requested since 2013. The FY 2017 request will be its 5th year on the list.
North East High School tennis courts
Requested since 2014
Elkton High School tennis courts
Requested since 2014. Not included in FY 2017 request.
Replacement of the tennis courts at Perryville High School are included in the FY 2017 request and were in the request in FY 2015.
That means tennis courts at four of the county’s five high schools need to be replaced. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that CCPS may find some economies of scale in replacing them all at once.
Cecil Manor Elementary School Needs to be Connected to Municipal Water
Since 2014, CCPS has requested funding to connect Cecil Manor Elementary School to nearby municipal water lines. What’s the downside to the school remaining on well water? From a dollars and cents perspective, local well water tends to speed the deterioration of HVAC eqauipment, one of the most expensive systems in any building. From a water quality perspective, higher than normal nitrate levels are reported at the school from time to time. This contamination is mostly due to nearby agricultural activity.
Long and Bumpy Roads
Without adequate funding for maintenance and capital projects, CCPS estimates it would cost upwards of $1 million just to put a dent in the school system’s paving needs. Most concerning is the deterioration that is evident in the bus loops–spots where heavy buses drop off and pick up hundreds of students 180 days a year. The bus loops at BoManor Thomson Estates, and Kenmore Elementary are especially damaged. (A budget amendment in FY 2014 funded some paving at Perryville, North East, and Rising Sun High schools. CCPS worked in cooperation with Cecil County Department of Public Works to complete those projects as cost effectively as possible.)
Cecil County, the Schools are YOUR Responsibility
CCPS is a component unit of Cecil County government with no taxing authority so paying for maintenance and improvements is largely the responsibility of the county. Choosing to continue this trend of minimal funding for small capital projects is a choice to disregard the county’s obligation to maintain facilities built using taxpayer funds.
Here’s the CCPS FY 2017 county funded capital budget request. The projects on this list won’t go away if you ignore them they will only become bigger, more expensive projects. It’s time to face the facts and start funding capital projects again so CCPS can begin to whittle away at this list.
Tell the County You Support Adequate Capital Funding in the FY 2017 Cecil County Budget
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore is now working with her team to draft the budget that she will send to the County Council in April. Once the County Council receives the budget, they can either approve it as proposed or cut from it. The council can’t add to the budget so we need to voice our expectations NOW.
To make it easier, just copy these email addresses and paste them into an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are partial to mailing actual letters, send them to this address:
200 Chesapeake Blvd.
Elkton, MD 21921
Cecil County Executive
Cecil County Council