SNOW HILL — After hearing the Worcester County Board of Education’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 Tuesday, Commission President Bud Church requested that parents, teachers and students stop flooding the commissioners with petitions.
“Stop all of the letters, stop all of the emails,” Church asked. “We know what the problems are.”
Church went on to tell the audience, the majority of whom were school faculty or parents, that bombarding the commission with emails asking for support for the board budget was not “accomplishing a whole lot.”
Church also mentioned that he’d heard a rumor that teachers were encouraging students to write letters to the commission and offering incentives like less homework to do so. While it was just a rumor, Church advised against the practice if the story happens to be true.
Finally, he informed the audience that blitzing identical emails was pointless because when his inbox has “60 emails all about the same thing,” he will usually just delete the stack.
Church reiterated the commission didn’t need to see all of those messages because it’s already aware. He added the commission valued public comment as long as it was manageable.
“Stop the letters, but call us,” Church said.
For his part, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes emphasized that parents have been and continue to be encouraged to be active in all aspects of the school system.
“Our parents are deeply engaged in the budget development process,” said Andes.
While he didn’t address Church’s comments directly, Andes did state that the BoE “wants parents involved in our schools.”
The proposed budget itself, which is identical to the one the board revealed in February, calls for level funding from last year as well as a slight pay raise for school employees. The total requested budget is $93.3 million, $1.9 million or 2.5 percent higher than last year’s.
Commissioner Judy Boggs pointed out this budget would be unlike last year’s where schools only asked that Maintenance of Effort be preserved.
“There’s a big difference between Maintenance of Effort and level funding,” she said.
By asking for level funding, the board hopes to receive the exact same amount as last year plus the $1.9 million for employee raises, which averages out to a 1.5-percent pay increase for teachers and staff. Andes noted however, that the 1.5 percent would mean only another $8 a day for most teachers.
If only Maintenance of Effort was funded, as it was last year, schools would actually see an $851,000 budget cut, since it’s based on student population and 56 fewer students are expected to be enrolled next year compared to 2012. Those students are spread out over 14 schools, however, meaning each individual school will average four fewer students across all grade levels.
Using a study conducted by Dr. Memo Diriker, the founding director of Salisbury University’s Business, Economic, and Community Outreach Network (BEACON), Andes highlighted the positive impact of school funding on the rest of the county. He described the study as “very powerful,” especially the revelation that Worcester schools have a $186 million dollar impact on the county and return 161 percent for every dollar spent on investment.
One of the “myths” Andes addressed included the common belief that the slots at Ocean Downs has supplied funding to the school system.
“The reality is we don’t get a penny to our schools,” he said.
Andes explained that, while a small portion of revenue from the slots does go back into the Maryland General Fund meant for education, Worcester schools didn’t see any of it directly. He also focused on what he believed are misconceptions about teachers and their salaries. According to Andes, while starting salaries for teachers in Worcester were 11th out of 24 counties in 2009, they have fallen to 15th this year.
Additionally, Andes pointed out that 18 of the 24 counties in the state have given teachers and staff some kind of pay raise in the last three years, while Worcester remains in the minority of counties that has not.
Church pointed out, “none of our employees have had pay raises.”
Boggs remarked that she, “could not, in good conscience, vote for [teacher] raises when nobody else in the county will get one.”
Andes responded, “I think all county employees deserve a pay raise.” He “believes the county has the capability to provide a pay raise for county employees and school employees.”
Church was more skeptical, saying, “We don’t know where we are because of uncertainty coming out of Annapolis. I think it’s inevitable we’re going to look at a tax increase.”
Church told Andes that the county “can’t print money” and finds itself in “uncharted waters right now.”
However, Board of Education President Bob Rothermel took up the metaphor and turned it around.
“Sooner or later, we’ve got to swim for land,” he said.