SNOW HILL — With schools opening their doors next week and options running out, the Worcester County Board of Education was forced to seek approval for some last-minute inter-budget transfers that will allow schools to continue to fund popular “After School Academies” (ASA), several of which watched grants dry up last month.
Though loathe to pull money from other parts of the school board’s budget, the County Commissioners eventually agreed to approve the transfers, which totaled $270,055 and should fund the academies through January, at which point the board will likely have some more tough decisions to make.
“Parents strongly support these programs,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson.
Wilson appeared before the commission Tuesday to explain the need for some inter-budget transfers to keep ASA for Buckingham Elementary, Berlin Intermediate, Pocomoke Middle, Snow Hill Middle, and Stephen Decatur Middle schools above water.
The board’s plan called for removing $200,000 previously allocated toward textbooks and classroom supplies as well as $70,055 from maintenance of plant.
The services that the academies offer are varied and all geared toward improving education and expanding horizons, Wilson added. They include a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) as well as several other options. Besides the obvious educational benefit, Wilson emphasized the fact that ASA provide supervision and often a meal, critical for many students who might not have that after school.
“We’re providing supervision for a large portion of students who otherwise might not have the supervision in their homes or neighborhoods,” he said.
Academies at area schools have been grant funded for three years at the sixth through eighth grade levels and for nine years at the fourth and fifth grade levels. Those grants, which operate on three-year cycles, were anticipated again this year and represent more than $637,000 worth of funding. In July, however, the school system learned it had not been re-approved for funding.
In fact, no counties on the Eastern Shore received funding this grant cycle from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) for after-school programs, which was highly unusual, according to Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Dr. John Gaddis.
“For no Eastern Shore county to receive a grant, this is the first time that has ever happened,” he said.
Due to the unusual decision by MSDE not to re-approve grant funding despite the popularity, success, and need for the programs, Gaddis informed the board he attempted to touch base with state education representatives but wasn’t even able to “get a phone call back.”
After looking at the school systems that did receive grants and, unable to discuss the issue with the source, Gaddis said he has no choice but to assume that Worcester’s status as the overall highest rated school by Maryland State Assessment (MSA) was the culprit.
“Being a top-performing school system hurts us when it comes to grants,” he said.
Board of Education member Bob Hulburd held similar suspicions.
“The handwriting is on the wall,” he said.
Hulburd reinforced one of Wilson’s earlier points about ASA providing more than just an educational experience by offering students care and supervision even after the school day has concluded.
“The reality is that so many of our kids don’t have the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ home life,” he said, adding that cutting grant funding just because Worcester consistently scores well on the MSA “would be criminal.”
After reviewing the board’s proposed changes, the commissioners agreed that the academies were worth sacrificing other areas for, though several commissioners expressed reservations about cutting maintenance and textbooks.
“Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak?” asked Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley also admitted some fear in the transfers.
“[Cuts to] maintenance of plant scares the devil out of me,” he said.
However, Shockley reasoned that that the ASA are an important part of offering students a successful and well-rounded education.
While she also agreed that the transfers would be worth preserving the programs, Commissioner Louise Gulyas questioned what would happen after the $270,055 ran out.
“This is through January; then what?” she asked.
Wilson replied that in the time between now and this winter the board would be hard at work trying to locate smaller, unexplored grants from a variety of sources. However, he admitted that the board could likely return to the commission in January.
The commission voted 5-2, with Lockfaw and Commissioner Madison Bunting opposed, to approve the transfer.