SNOW HILL — To keep popular After School Academies (ASA) alive at several local middle and elementary schools, the Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to provide $300,000 worth of funding to support the programs through the end of this school year.
While all of the commissioners have addressed how tight this coming budget season will be, none of the six officials present (Commissioner Louise Gulyas was absent) raised any objection to granting the academies enough funding to finish the year.
“At least in my mind, these are the children that are the most vulnerable in the county,” said Commission President Bud Church of ASA students. “I hate to use the word, ‘bottom of the pile,’ but that’s generally where they fall. They are the most at risk of every student we have in the county.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson explained that, if not for the academies, many students would miss out on educational opportunities and in some cases, their dinner for that day. He listed a number of concerns drafted by parents from across the county.
“Children will be left at home unattended due to many dual income families that cannot get home before 5:30 p.m.,” he said. “Children will be running the streets unattended and having safety issues. Many children will go hungry; there are many children that would not eat dinner if not for the meals the schools so graciously provide. And many parents cannot afford to pay out of pocket for these types of programs.”
Wilson called ASA “vital to our success in closing the achievement gap” between student subgroups as well as playing a big part in helping Worcester County’s public school system consistently landing in the top on the Maryland State Assessment (MSA) every year.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley said that he put his full support behind providing the Board of Education $300,000 to sustain ASA for the rest of the year. He also remarked on how disappointed he was with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) for failing to continue grant funding for the academies, which it had done for years until last July.
“I truly do not understand the state’s reasoning at all for Worcester County being turned down,” said Shockley. “I don’t know what they were thinking. Somebody was absolutely illogical up there as far as the grants that you guys have been receiving because I don’t know how you can do any better than what we’ve done down here.”
While he supported giving the schools money this year, Shockley added that he hopes to see state grant funding return next year, since it would be difficult to sustain the $600,000 annual expense on top of an already tight county budget.
It should be noted that the school board found the $270,000 necessary to support the ASA for the first half of this year through the inter-budget transferring of funds.
While the topic of ASA funding was unrelated to school security, which has been discussed extensively this week, the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. still colored the discussion Tuesday. Commissioner Madison Bunting admitted that, while he initially felt that the Board of Education should be responsible for finding the funding, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School left him shaken and wondering if programs like the academies could have enough positive influence to stop troubled students before they turn to violence.
“I can’t help but think that this program may help some troubled kid from doing something like this,” he said.
Commissioner Madison Lockfaw held a similar view and underlined the importance of programs like ASA.
“That’s where we need to concentrate to change this country and the things that are going on today,” he asserted.