We are all on the same team.
That’s the message that should be resonating throughout Worcester County and all other jurisdictions this time of year.
It’s no secret counties are struggling with their budgets currently. They don’t know what cuts are coming from the state yet, but they are well aware property tax revenue is going to be down significantly due to declining property values and that almost all other expenses associated with energy, health insurance and services are headed up.
That’s why department heads have been asked routinely in recent years to reduce spending and then go back and cut some more. It’s an unenviable position for all.
The Worcester County Board of Education has made it clear that the cuts have to stop if maintaining the school system’s high standards is a priority.
What has resulted from that is an orchestrated campaign to express to the County Commissioners, who have the final say on the school system’s budget, how important public school funding is to them. In some cases, some overzealousness has been reported.
That appears to be what happened at several schools when homework-free weeks were reportedly offered in exchange for letters or emails to the commissioners seeking funding for the next fiscal year that surpasses Maintenance of Effort, which dictates that no jurisdiction can fund less than the per-pupil amount from the previous year.
In Worcester’s case, due to a slight decline in enrollment, Maintenance of Effort funding would lead to less money than last year consequently. The school board is seeking level funding from the year previous to ensure 32 more positions do not have to be eliminated, class sizes are not increased, programs are not reduced or cut and that teachers do not have to go another year without a raise.
The current “Our Schools Matter” campaign is worthwhile and has goals most share in the community, but that mission went awry when it was discovered a perception among some parents was they had to address their commissioners if they wanted their kids to get a week off from homework.
It turns out that was not the intention, and at least one elementary school principal sent a letter to parents explaining that was never the goal. All involved cleared the air on that matter this week. That was the right call. Clearly, it’s wrong for a week of no homework to be dangled in front of kids in exchange for partaking in a political issue. That’s not the right message to send to our youth.
With its “Our Schools Matter” campaign, the Worcester County Teachers Association is doing what it should do. It’s advocating for its members specifically and education generally and consequently aiming to reverse the current funding trend.
There is no question teachers and all other county employees deserve some sort of pay increase. The question before the commissioners remains: at what cost?
The commissioners appear privately to be considering a property tax rate increase. Many public school advocates are willing to accept this hike if it means more public school dollars.
Over the next few weeks, it’s going to be interesting to see how the seven-member board decides this matter. If the teachers get raises, it’s only fair all county employees see some sort of augmentation as well. At this point, with funding projections from the state declining, there seems to no question that will only come from a tax increase.