Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

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How many current and experienced Worcester County teachers have left because of pay concerns? How many are now seeking work elsewhere after the county’s most recent decision? Those are the questions that should matter the most to the Worcester County Commissioners and the Board of Education.

It looks like this year’s budget is a done deal. The commissioners are not going to further raise taxes any more than they already have agreed to in order to allow county employees a step increase or COLA jump. They made that clear this week. Therefore, the ball is in the Worcester County Board of Education’s proverbial court. With the commissioners’ blessing, the school board can reassign certain funds within its budget but it will come with a cost. Does it reduce tech funding or other line items further to give teachers their step increase? It’s not an easy call, but ultimately what most teachers would accept at this point.

To me, it all comes down to those two questions raised initially. Veteran, experienced teachers are critical for the school system. New teachers simply are not seasoned enough to know how to handle all types of students and able to adjust as proficiently as their experienced counterparts. There’s something to be said for new blood and a fresh perspective, but by and large teachers with years of classroom experience are better instructors because of the “been there, done that” background. A school system full of new teachers with little hands-on experience in the classroom is not going to cut it. There needs to be a mix.

Most of the teachers taking the most umbrage over the commissioners’ decision to forgo step increases as well as COLAs are those with years of experience. It’s the teachers who are getting paid at the eighth-year step level when they should be at the 14th. In some cases, it’s a $3,000 or more difference. That’s a big enough of a deal teachers are exploring vacancies in neighboring counties, such as Somerset, Wicomico and Sussex counties.

“We are losing good teachers to other counties,” said Beth Shockley-Lynch, president of the Worcester County Teachers Association. “That should be a real red flag. I never thought I’d see a teacher go to Somerset County because they’d make more money. It’s not a mass exodus but when the opportunity presents itself people are taking it.”

Buckingham Elementary second-grade teacher Crissy Williams, a proud product of the local school system, is “heartbroken” over the fact she is mulling leaving the county for other positions. She said, “I never would have predicted the county would have not paid me my steps from my negotiated agreement I signed in ’98. It’s a matter of survival for many of us. Enough is enough. I am heartbroken that it has come to this.”

That’s the most disturbing aspect. The county can’t lose its most tenured teachers. In government and private industry, the trend in many cases is to push out the most veteran staff members because they are the highest salaried and usually result in significant health insurance premiums. The ideology is to replace the old with the new who can do the same job for much cheaper.

While the Board of Education in Newark clearly needs to apply some of those principles to its administration personnel with salaries that should astonish teachers, that business model generally cannot apply to all aspects of education. It’s true the school system is essentially structured like a corporation with the superintendent acting as the CEO, the school board members as the Board of Directors who typically go along with whatever the CEO wants, the teachers and staff as employees and the residents as the shareholders. Despite that structure, it must be viewed differently and that’s one of the reasons the budget process needs to be tweaked within the school board.

As it stands currently, an us vs. them mentality exists between the Board of Education and the County Commissioners, and caught in between are the teachers, who rightly so are frustrated by it. They have lost faith in the county’s leaders and many want to move on. That’s a clear indication the system is broken and in my opinion the answer is more communication between the school board and the county in the earliest stages of the budget process.

 

It’s clear Ocean City’s new restricted smoking policy on the beach and Boardwalk is essentially a paper law.

As expected, there is no enforcement. I spent last Sunday on the beach in Ocean City and talked to many people.

One group of local residents set up their camp directly in front of the new designated smoking area. They did it because they were smokers. They had no issues with the change because they always sat in front of the beach stands previously. This move just pushed them to the north a little bit.

One man I spoke with happened to be bothering us with his cigar smoke. He said he knew about the law change and made it succinctly clear he didn’t care, as he sat under his umbrella.

Here’s to hoping the latter does not rule this summer, but my instinct is most will feel the same way. It will be interesting to observe as the season continues.

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