Schools Hope Parent Input Derails Cuts

BERLIN – The OC Stars are history if school budget cuts remain at the current level, Ocean City Elementary School (OCES) Principal Irene Kordick warned parents in a recent letter describing how the school would be affected by budget reductions.

Kordick had no problem admitting the letter was an attempt to spark a lobbying effort among parents.

“What we’re encouraging parents to do is to contact our County Commissioners,” Kordick said. “We’re hoping that the County Commissioners will look at it again through parent contact.”

The February Buckingham Elementary School (BES) newsletter features a “special budget announcement” on the first page, by Principal Roger Pacella.

The text of Pacella’s missive reflects the OCES letter almost exactly, aside from school specific information.

The BES website also specifically connects to the statement on the left side of the front page through a large link titled “Latest Budget News and County Commissioner Contact Information.”

The first page of the BES website also asks for reader help: “We need your support and voice to continue this trend of excellence.”

Principal Paula Jones of Showell Elementary School (SES) said she has spoken to parents at Parent-Teacher Association meetings, and at School Improvement and Advisory Committee (SIAC) meetings as well as reaching out through the SES newspaper, The Exchange.

“I asked parents to please talk to the commissioners,” Jones said. “The most important thing to do first is to say thank you to the commissioners on what they’ve done for the schools so far.”

The OCES letter extols the Worcester County schools system as one of the top performing systems in the nation, and details potential cuts, such as less money for textbooks or paper.

The school board plans to review the need for any positions that become vacant in the near future. According to the OCES letter, a half-day music teacher at OCES has resigned, and with the extra workload, the full-time music teacher at the school would not have time for the OC Stars singing group.

The OCES After School and Summer Academies could also be affected, according to the letter.

“When you cut programs and you cut people and you cut the money for textbooks, you’re cutting the quality of what the students are getting,” Kordick said.

The letter, which was sent home with parents and children after a school awards ceremony last week, also included the home, work and cell phone numbers of the seven county commissioners, their e-mail addresses and home addresses.

“We are asking for your support. Below are the names and contact information for our County Commissioners should you choose to express your concerns with what these cuts might do to the future of the best school system in the state, and perhaps in the nation,” the letter concludes.        

With the Board of Education budget incomplete, Jones said she could not talk about details, but she is concerned about staffing issues like replacing retired personnel.

Snow Hill schools, which work together on outreach to the community, are taking a wait and see approach, said Snow Hill Middle School Principal Janet Simpson. Although she has spoken to her SIAC committee, no plans or requests for parent lobbying have been made.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes said that schools are keeping parents informed. He would not answer questions on whether the schools were prompting parents to lobby elected officials or whether it was appropriate to ask parents of students to do so.

“We want our parents to stay informed because our parents are our consumers of our educational services,” Andes said. “So we are reaching out to our parents to keep them informed.”

The Worcester County Commissioners mandated a 3 percent cut for all departments, including the Worcester County Board of Education, last fall.

No final budget decisions have been made by the school board or the County Commissioners.

The moment of truth for the school board will come March 17 when it must pass the schools budget request. The schools staff must cut another $1.6 million to meet the county mandate, but has not so far identified all cuts.

“They want us to be the bad guys and that’s fine, but everyone’s in the same boat,” County Commission President Louise Gulyas.  “There is no blame. I don’t get it. Nobody’s at fault. There’s just no money.”