Advocates Rally For Education Funding

SNOW
HILL – The Board of Education got the lion’s share of support at the annual
budget hearing hosted Tuesday night from Worcester County advocates, who packed
the auditorium of Snow Hill High School, as they do every year, calling for the
County Commissioners to fully fund the education budget. The requested schools
budget, $70.7 million, has increased by $6.8 million (10.6 percent) over the
approved budget from last year.

Worcester
County by all accounts faces a tight budget year, with requested spending from
all departments outstripping projected revenues by $23.5 million.

At
the hearing, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes got a standing ovation
just for walking up to the microphone.

“This
is the first time I’ve seen the Superintendent come to the podium and get this
kind of applause,” said Commission President Jim Purnell. “It must make him
feel good he’s got all these people behind him.”

Andes
started out by thanking the County Commissioners for all their support in past
years and went on to describe the successes and honors earned by the school
system. All 14 schools met the state’s adequate yearly progress standards, he
said, with the school system coming in second in math in the state and fifth in
reading.

Six
schools are state blue ribbon schools and three are national blue ribbon
schools, according to Andes.

“These
successes would not be possible without your support,” Andes said.

Ed
Lee, president of the Worcester County NAACP (National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People), praised the county for progress made in
educating African-American students.

“Worcester
County is making more progress than any county in the state in this area at
this time,” Lee said.

Lee,
who has been outspoken for years about the need for changes to the educational
system to close the minority achievement gap, said the change is due in part to
after-school programs.

This
year Lee asked the commissioners to expand the Family-School Connections program,
which started in Pocomoke last year, in response to the NAACP’s continuing
calls for an ombudsman position for struggling minority students. The county
has said it will consider adding the program to Snow Hill and Berlin if the
pilot program was successful.

“I
call upon you to honor that commitment and to fund those positions in the
school board’s budget,” Lee said.

He
also asked the commissioners to fund another initiative, adding a Big Brothers
Big Sisters (BBBS) mentoring program to the schools.

Lee
and supporters met with Andes last year and asked what in particular they could
focus on to help local students. Andes, Lee said, told them the school system
needed mentors for the children.

The
county’s share of a pilot BBBS program would be just $21,000, he said, and
would be another piece of the puzzle for struggling students.

“This
is not a silver bullet,” he acknowledged.

An
at times contentious relationship between the school system and the NAACP was
given a more positive light at the hearing.

“Dr.
Andes receives from the NAACP this year an A +,” Lee said. “This year the
[Board of Education] received an A.”

“Mr.
Lee. You get an A- this year,” Commissioner Bud Church said.

Terry
Springle, president of the Worcester County Teacher’s Association, asked the
commissioners to fund the increases in teacher and staff salaries, saying that
with the national and state teacher shortage, some positions are going
unfilled.

“We
did not get [the county’s] excellent schools by chance,” Springle said.

Teacher
salaries in Somerset County, one of the poorest counties in Maryland, will
exceed those in Worcester County, Springle said, which is one of the richest.

There
was a universal call for higher teacher and staff salaries. Most speakers
focused on the need for high quality teachers.

“It
is imperative we have an attractive starting salary to attract outsanding
teachers,” said Greg Robinson of the Showell Elementary School (SES) School
Improvement and Advisory Committee (SIAC).

A
handful spoke of the need for staff salary increases.

Elinor
Hodson, president of the Worcester County Educational Support Staff and a
worker at SES, referenced the little known salary levels for those workers,
ranging from $12,000 to $17,000.

“These
figures are at poverty level in today’s economy,” she said.

Several
of the speakers, from school improvement and advisory committees, asked for
full funding of the budget, while others asked for support for specific
teaching positions and programs.

The
addition of an arts immersion program to local middle schools, following the
example of Berlin Intermediate School, came up more than once. School security,
technology, and after-school programs also received support.

 

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