Lawson

Cecil County Public Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Lawson

ELKTON — The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill is now law after the Maryland House and Senate overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto. Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Lawson said the plan will have an immense impact on Cecil County Public Schools.

“It’s a godsend for us to be very honest with you,” said Lawson.

Lawson approves of the more aspirational goals of the Blueprint including a heavy emphasis on early education, college and career readiness, a high quality diverse workforce and general school support. On a granular level the additional funding will help CCPS retain current staff and hire new employees despite a decreasing number of students.

According to Lawson, this year, the current version of the legislation will provide $13,800,000 in funding for Cecil County Public Schools. Of that money, $5.2M is “hold harmless,” representing what the County could have lost in state revenue based on decreased enrollment over the past year.

“We look at a million dollars in revenue as 15 positions, And not every position costs the same but as an average, where if you’re looking at some of our support staff or some of our administrators, a good ballpark is 15 positions per million,” said Lawson. “So when we look at a shortfall in revenue in the neighborhood of $5.2 million, well, you do the math, that’s 80 positions.”

Lawson said there is an expectation that the state will readdress the per-pupil calculation for funding. Each child generates a certain amount of revenue from the state, with additional funds to assist English Language Learners, Disabled, and poor students.

The law does not add any additional funding mandates to Cecil County until 2025. Lawson said the district is consistently funded above the maintenance of effort, the minimum amount of funding necessary for the school system, so the Blueprint does not mandate any local funding increases for several years.

“County leadership is aware that the way Kirwan is currently constructed, their financial obligation is fairly static for the next couple of years,” said Lawson. “And then it’ll start to escalate.”

Lawson said that because of the County’s decreased enrollment, the County could reduce school funding while remaining above the maintenance of effort. However, Lawson said the governor is incentivizing counties to keep school funding the same.

“I know the price tag gives many people heartburn, and rightly so,” said Lawson. “I think the five areas of focus that they’ve {Kirwan Commission} articulated are appropriate. They’re needed. And, educating children isn’t cheap. “

Of the aforementioned $13,800,000 in the state budget, $5 to $6 million is restricted, according to Lawson. The earmarking of funds for specific positions limits the financial freedom of the County. For example, money from the children’s with disabilities grant can’t be spent to pay the salaries of standard English teachers.

“I think what happens is, as these bills are created, there are well-intended efforts to secure pockets of money for students with disabilities or for children from poverty,” said Lawson. “But from a school systems perspective, we have needs outside of those two immediate areas, and it really paints school systems into a corner in terms of deciding how money gets spent.”

For Cecil County, the Blueprint sets aside $83,000 for a mental health coordinator and $1.3 million for special education in general. The slightly under half-million-dollar concentration of poverty will create a community outreach person and fund full-time nurses at two schools. A $2.5 million supplemental instruction grant will put tutoring staff to assist elementary schoolers in reading math, and a $1.2 million grant will offset the costs of providing full-day pre-kindergarten.

“There are too many people that start to look at government services and say, who can do it the cheapest? And I gotta tell you, it’s almost like a race to the bottom sometimes, well, if we can pay our teachers, you know, $3,000 less, we’re saving money,” said Lawson. “And that’s true from a math perspective. But on the back end, there are consequences to that.”

A focus of the Blueprint is increasing teacher salaries to make Maryland more competitive. Lawson said when Blueprint funding first came online in 2019, CCPS received a $1.5 million annual grant to increase starting teacher salaries. The importance of salaries that can attract graduates is something Lawson has emphasized in budget meetings, and Blueprint helps CCPS compete with neighboring districts in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

“It’s easy to get trapped into the notion that we’re competing with Kent County, Queen Anne’s County, going right on down south to Dorchester, but we’re not,” said Lawson. “We’re competing with Harford, Chester school district up in PA, Christina school district in Wilmington and Newark. That’s who we compete with.”

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