School Board Alleges Commissioner Micromanagement

NEWARK – County elected
officials need to keep their fingers out of the school system’s financial pie,
the Worcester County school board said this week, balking at what they called
micromanagement of school programs funded by grant money.

The June 25 budget transmittal
letter from the County Commissioners to the Worcester County Board of Education
informed the school board that in the future programs run by grant funds would
not automatically be picked up by the county when those grants close or are
reduced.

“The County fully expects that
future grant funding from Federal and State agencies will be decreased in
future budgets. Please be advised the County will unlikely fund these grants or
positions, if the grant disappears or is reduced. Those affected should be made
aware that when grant funds expire, positions and continuation of salaries will
be reviewed based on funding availability, if any,” the county letter reads.

Virgil Shockley, president of
the County Commissioners, confirmed this policy
this week.

“If the grant runs out, no
matter how great the program, it may not be funded, depending on the economic
times,” he said.

The County Commissioners
have repeatedly warned in recent months that the tough budget situation in the
current fiscal year, FY 2009, will likely get worse in fiscal year 2010.

The Board of Education sees the
warning in the letter as a power play, however.

“That’s more or less a grab to
micromanage,” said Board of Education Vice President Bob Hulburd. “They should
not be in a position to micromanage our job.”

The County Commissioners’
letter requires the Board of Education to seek permission to establish
programs, Hulburd said, enforced by the county’s control of the purse strings.

“I don’t think that’s right,”
said Hulburd. “It’s tying our hands beyond what is really necessary.”

Ed Barber, assistant
superintendent of schools for administration, said that the letter reflects a
lack of understanding of grant-funded programs and pointed out that grants are
a significant funding source for the Worcester
County school system,
especially for special education services.

“Let’s make sure we point out
the benefits,” said Hulburd.

Assistant Superintendent for
Instruction Richard Walker said later that the results of a program have no
influence on the County
Commissioners. The Reading 180 program was successful as a pilot program at Stephen Decatur
High School, Walker

said, but the Commissioners refused this spring to extend the program to Snow Hill High School and Pocomoke High School.

“Information about the success
of the grant appears to have no effect,” Walker
said.

“Students can really testify to
the success of these programs,” said Stephen
Decatur High
School student school board representative Kara
Brower, attending her first school board meeting.

The County Commissioners
said repeatedly during the recent budget season that they would not authorize
any new programs.

The Board of Education has
always gone to the County
Commissioners to take up
the slack when grant fund limits are reached, said Superintendent of Schools
Dr. Jon Andes.

Grants have been used
particularly to fund after-school programs. Half the schools in the county are
using some kind of grant that will soon expire to fund after-school or
supplemental educational programs, according to Andes.

“Those grants will be reduced by
the state. These programs are extremely successful. These programs are
crucial,” said Andes. “If the county is no
longer going to fund those after-school programs, we need to know now.”

Those programs have been
successful, but the County Commissioners want to nickel and dime the school
board over them, said Board of Education member Sara Thompson.

“I think it’s a very poor day
when they’re going to take money from us,” said Thompson. “I think it’s a bad
time in the county now for them to be doing this.”

Andes
wondered if the new pre-engineering program at the technical high school would
suffer from this new attitude.

“That’s being funded entirely by
grants. We actively pursued money to provide that program,” Andes
said.

At some point in the future, those grants will no
longer be available and the school board will need to approach the County Commissioners
for funding, he said.

“They don’t look at, what can we cut to save

something that really works. It’s just add, add, add, add,” said Shockley.     

Instead of asking for
more money, Shockley said the Board of Education needs to switch money from
less important needs to fund crucial programs.

“They have a budget. If they
stay within the budget, if they need to transfer money, there’ll be no problem
from the commissioners,” Shockley said.

 

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