Commissioners Get First Look At School Budget

SNOW HILL – The Board of Education has asked for a $7
million increase in the Worcester County schools budget for fiscal year 2008.

The $87,306,346 requested budget is 9.6 percent higher
than the approved FY 2007 budget.

The increase comes mainly from salary and operational
costs, said Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes.

School Board President Gary Mumford, presenting the budget
to the County Commissioners, said the school system must constantly rise to
meet new challenges, from No Child Left Behind requirements to state testing to
rising special education and English as a second language needs.

“We always seem to find a way. With your support, we’ll
continue to find a way to meet those challenges,” Mumford said.

Andes reinforced Mumford’s message.

“We are always striving to improve,” said Andes. “We refer
to our continuing improvement process as a journey to greatness.”

The Board of Education is asking for a 5-percent pay raise
for teachers, staff and bus contractors, as well as steps for qualified
employees and scale adjustments. A 5-percent raise is standard across Maryland,
according to Andes.

The proposed pay raise is the most important element of
the budget, he said.

“In the school system, it’s the people who make the
difference,” Andes said. “To recruit and keep good people, we have to pay a
competitive salary.”

Another key element in the request for new teachers is
maintaining the county’s low class sizes.

“We’re asking you to fund additional positions to keep our
class sizes small,” said Mumford.

Ocean City Elementary School, for example, has 22 students
per teacher, which the board would like to reduce to 19 students through the
addition of a sixth instructor.

Special education teachers need to be hired to fulfill an
increasing need. The school system also needs an additional English Language
Learner teacher to address an increase in Worcester County schoolchildren who
do not speak English as a first language, or at all.

Other new teaching positions included in the budget will
fill new state requirements, said Andes.

“The graduation requirements are changing. The kids are
entering a different global marketplace than every before,” he said.

A new technology education teacher must be added at
Stephen Decatur High School, he said, because the state is now mandating that
all students take the technology education course, instead of fulfilling the
requirement through a variety a different computer courses.

Other highlights of the budget include adding Family
Connection workers to the Berlin/Ocean City and Snow Hill areas, additions and
improvements to technology, including wireless Internet access, after school
academies, and the addition of an elementary school foreign language pilot

“The best time to learn a foreign language is in
elementary school,” said Andes.

Cameras will also be added to the halls, common areas and
outside of local schools for added security.

Funding for a pilot program of Big Brothers/Big Sisters in
the schools is also included in the budget.

Mumford said that the budget presented is for the needs of
the school system.

“If we don’t get the money from the county government, we
don’t get it,” said Andes. The state formula awards less funding to wealthy
jurisdictions. The highly valuable real estate in Ocean City and the northern
end put Worcester County in that “wealthy” bracket, according to the state

“The state is not going to adjust the formula for
Worcester County,” Andes said.

County provides 74 percent of the school budget and the state only 19 percent.