Public School Spending Increase Sought

OCEAN CITY – The proposed operating budget for the fiscal year 2009 was presented this week to the Board of Education, reflecting a $2.6 million, 3.4 percent increase over last year’s operating budget.

The current year budget sits at $81 million. Seventy percent of funding comes from the county, with 18.9 percent coming from the state. Of the $81 million, 81 percent is spent within the classroom, reported Chief Financial Officer Vince Tolbert.

According to Tolbert, an estimated $150,000 is to be received through Thornton state funding. Dr. Richard Walker, assistant superintendent for instruction, explained that if received, that money would be used for funding after-school programs at Berlin Intermediate, Buckingham Elementary, Pocomoke Middle and Stephen Decatur Middle schools. In addition, $25,000 is being allocated for the Ocean City Elementary after school program. 

“Without that $25,000, we won’t be able to continue with this after-school program at Ocean City Elementary,” said Walker.

Nine positions are being requested in this year’s proposed budget, seven of which were requested last year. Walker pointed out that Snow Hill Elementary has been requesting a full-time art teacher for several years now. Two new positions were included in the proposed budget this week, including a work experience program teacher for Cedar Chapel Special School and a foreign language teacher for Stephen Decatur Middle.

In the area of special education, $171,170 in funding is being requested. Additional special education teachers for Ocean City Elementary and Stephen Decatur Middle and reading specialists for Pocomoke High and Snow Hill High were included in the budget requests. Walker also noted a $50,000 funding request to help offset the reduced funding in FY09 from the federal government for special education.

Instructional programs are budgeted at $523,891 in the proposed budget for FY09, with the bulk of the funding being requested for contracted services for High School Assessments (HSA), $120,000, and after school/summer school pay increases, $114,000.

Walker pointed out that with the increasing importance of the HSA and the requirement to pass the HSA to graduate approaching for the class of 2009, it is becoming imperative for schools to hire certified teachers to help with HSA testing. After school and summer school burdens on teachers are also increasing with the greater importance of HSA programs, making stronger incentives for teachers to stay after school and through the summer necessary.

The proposed technology budget is close to $1 million this year, which is close to what was requested for FY08. Board of Education member Jonathon Cook pointed out that only half of what was requested was received last year.

“It’s not a lot of money out of a $80 million budget,” he said.

Walker pointed out that as teachers become more dependent on technology, the loss of it becomes more severe.

“Once it wears out, it’s going to interfere with instruction because teachers are becoming dependent on it,” he said.

The remainder of the budget included $509,515 in capitol outlay and $250,000 in construction. Construction funds included the architectural feasibility study for Showell Elementary that Walker explained was the “second step toward the eventual renovation of Showell Elementary.”

The estimated 3.4 percent increase in the operational budget did not include salary increases, which will not be included in the proposed budget until next month. The budget will be presented at a board budget work session on March 4, followed by a board review of the budget March 18 before being submitted to the county for review.

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