Public School Supporters Reiterate Familiar Message

SNOW HILL – School system supporters at the annual Worcester County public budget hearing held Tuesday night had little new to say, asking the County Commissioners to raise salaries for teachers and fully fund the school budget, as they ask every year.

The Worcester County Board of Education budget for fiscal year 2009 is asking for $78 million, $8.4 million more than the budget allocated to the schools in fiscal year 2008. The cost to the county would rise under this request from $15,128 per student, to $16,780 per student. The education budget, including debt service, currently makes up 49.9 percent of county expenditures.

As is customary in Worcester County, education supporters turned out to the budget public hearing Tuesday night in large numbers. Unlike in previous years, no one asked the County Commissioners to eliminate the portable classrooms at county schools, possibly because two school renovations, at Pocomoke High School (PHS) and Snow Hill High School (SHHS) are either underway or in process. While the renovation of Showell Elementary School (SES) is still on the distant horizon, the county is working on a feasibility study for the project.

Parents, teachers and other school supporters focused on teacher salaries. Teacher Tommy Morrison said that in five years of teaching in Worcester County, her pay has increased 13 percent, but expenses have increased an average of 37 percent, with electric costs up 29 percent, vehicle fuel up 53 percent and milk up 18 percent. “I wish you would consider giving us at least the inflation rate,” Morrison said.

Worcester County Teachers Association President Terry Springle continued Morrison’s message.

“A great school system needs highly qualified and dedicated employees and we need competitive salaries to retain highly qualified teachers, administrators, support staff, and personnel, said Springle.

Cedar Chapel Special School (CCSS) parent and school improvement advisory committee (SIAC) representative Jo Ellen West asking the commissioners to recruit quality staff. CCSS could also use a full-time teacher to supervise the school-to-work transition program.

“Special education continues to be a critical shortage and it is recommended that salaries be increased in order to attract and retain the talent required for success,” West said.    

Ocean City Elementary School has the highest special education teacher-student ratio in Worcester County and needs at another special education teacher, said Marilyn Jones.

After-school programs need to be continued, several said. According to Jones, OCES’ after-school program grant money has run out and the school hopes that the commissioners will fund the program, as they have with other schools. “This program is essential to provide additional academic support,” Jones said.

Snow Hill Middle School eighth grade teacher and drama aficionado Jolise Jackson is asking for another art teacher to start an arts immersion program.

“We feel the arts would make our school better,” said Jackson.

Foreign languages are necessary to today’s students, but not all schools can accommodate the student load.

“One teacher can’t meet the foreign language requirements of 640 students,” said Cheryl Townsend, representing Stephen Decatur Middle School’s SIAC.         

The new Worcester County Technical High School needs an electric wiring instructor, chair of its SIAC Jeannie Gillis said.

“We do want to get the electric wiring program going again. We need it in this county big time,” Gillis said.

“We are hopeful this is the year all the elementary schools go wireless,” said Thomas Tindall.

Pocomoke High School needs more staff and software for technology education, Lavonne Harmon, representing PHS SIAC, said. Harmon also said PHS needs a teacher and an educational assistant to begin an evening alternative learning program.

Greg Powell of Pocomoke City asked the commissioners to consider adding a Big Brothers Big Sisters pilot program this year, saying that children with a Big Brother or Big Sister learn more and are more likely to resist alcohol and drugs.

Paul Suplee, chair of the SES SIAC, asked the commissioners to make sure the feasibility study for a renovated or new building be completed this year.

Edward Lee, chair of the Worcester County NAACP, challenged the commissioners once again to address the achievement gap between African American students and white students.

“African American students in Worcester County still trail their white counterparts by 30 points,” Lee said.

Worcester County needs to invest in an ombudsman position for SHHS, Lee said, and to take part in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

“What we need at this juncture is commitment,” Lee said. “Yet the County Commissioners have been reluctant to fully fund line items required by the Board of Education that would have made a substantial difference in African American achievement…I will not accept the fact that some are going to be left back.”