The Frederick County Board of Education unanimously approved a fund to replace turf athletic fields at schools that have them, despite some differing views held by Board members.
This is the first year the Artificial Turf Fund budget has been presented to the Board for approval, as three of the county's five turf fields need to be replaced. The fund was created for the sole purpose of collecting money to be used for the maintenance of the fields.
Five of the school system's 10 high schools have artificial turf fields — Oakdale, Linganore, Frederick, Middletown, and Urbana High Schools. The others — Walkersville, Tuscarora, Brunswick, Catoctin and Gov. Thomas Johnson High Schools — have grass fields.
Middletown High's game field and Oakdale's game and practice field are in need of replacement. It is expected to cost $1.3 million.
Before voting, the Board had a discussion on the equity of the fund. The equity discussion of turf fields has been ongoing since members of the Gov. Thomas Johnson High School Athletic Boosters approached the board in 2017 with a $200,000 request to fund a new turf field. The boosters raised $500,000 for the field themselves, but could not secure the $200,000 from the board in time before a $50,000 grant ran out. The boosters spent six years to raise the money.
Schools with turf fields
|Middletown High School||10.1%|
|Urbana High School||6.9%|
|Oakdale High School||8.9%|
|Linganore High School||8.5%|
|Frederick High School||46.7|
Schools without turf fields
|Gov. Thomas Johnson||39.6%|
Board President Brad Young said he feels the Board needs to figure out a way to set aside money to pay for artificial turf fields at the remaining high schools.
"I know personally that [Walkersville High School] and [Gov. Thomas Johnson High School] have both tried unsuccessfully to raise the funds to get turf fields," Young said. "We need to find some way...so that they aren’t left behind because it is an equity issue.”
High school communities have raised money themselves to install artificial turf fields at some school, while FCPS has picked up the maintenance costs, but that has led to schools in lower income communities being left out of getting a turf field. Turf fields at Linganore and Oakdale were funded as capital projects when Linganore was replaced and Oakdale was built.
But, with the exception of Frederick High School, which also had a turf field installed when the new school was built, all schools with turf fields have 10 percent or fewer of their students qualifying for free and reduced meals — a key indicator of poverty.
The other five schools without turf fields, have 20 percent or more of their students qualifying for free and reduced meals.
Board Vice President Jay Mason agreed with Young.
"I really think that we should have the other five schools have turf before we start replacing something that we didn’t actually put in," Mason said. "Fundraisers are great and I'm glad they were able to do that but that is not equitable around our system."
Although she voted for final approval, Board member Liz Barrett said she was concerned about the safety of artificial turf fields and how many serious injuries occur on them.
“Turf fields are more durable and they stand up to having multiple teams doing many things on them but there are a lot of different ways to measure equity and...I think that we have to talk about safety not just about everyone having the same thing," Barrett said.
Board member Karen Yoho agreed.
"I can’t get all 'band-wagony' with this one just because I don’t know that the jury is out on the safety," Yoho said before voting to approve the budget.
Due to a shortfall in revenue this year — which is usually collected from field-use rental fees for community groups, cell tower leases, and interest earnings — the budget has a deficit of $166,882.
Clabaugh told the Board that although this is not typical, they have been approved to move forward.
"We verified with our auditors that as long as we could resolve the deficit in the next fiscal year...that this is acceptable by all of their standards," she said.
According to Clabaugh, there is a transfer scheduled from the FCPS operating budget to the Artificial Turf Budget next fiscal year which will address the deficit.
A deficit to make up
In addition to the Artificial Turf Fund, the Board also unanimously approved the Food and Nutrition Services budget for Fiscal Year 2020 despite an expected shortfall in revenue.
The total operating budget for Food and Nutrition Services is $12.7 million, according to FCPS budget documents.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the school system providing free meals to children across the county for three months, FCPS is projecting a deficit of approximately $2.8 million.
During Wednesday's meeting Heather Clabaugh, Budget Officer for FCPS, told the Board that the budget being presented is a "worst-case scenario."
"At this point based upon not knowing if we will be returning to school in a traditional manner in August...we are assuming in this budget that we will be seeing half the students on any given day in the school and so that will reduce our revenues for our school meals," Clabaugh said.
Since it is still unclear what phase of reopening the state will be in at the start of the school year and how circumstances surrounding the pandemic will play out in the Fall, FCPS is budgeting that they will only see 50 percent of students purchasing school meals through January 2021.
Meal prices will remain the same.
FCPS, like many other organizations, is not allowed to run any budgetary deficits therefore money will be transferred from the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) portion of the FCPS Self-Insurance Fund (SI) in order to make up for the shortfall. OPEB provides benefits, particularly health insurance, to retired employees. Retirees are not expected to see any impact on their retirement benefits or premiums.
Clabaugh said if the first half of the school year turns out better than expected, the funds that were transferred will be returned to OPEB.
Staff is also looking for additional sources of revenue to make up both for the deficit and for the additional, irrecoverable loss of $1.3 million they are projecting.
"We are currently contacting our state and local officials regarding this proposed deficit and seeking other funding sources because we know that all the food and nutrition funds throughout the state of Maryland and probably the United States will be in the same unfortunate economic predicament," Clabaugh said.