Friday, Dec 4–Parents Say Further School Funding Cuts Will Hurt Kids

NEWARK – Parents are asking to keep what the schools already have and for more technology, the first school budget meeting for the next school year revealed.

Work began this week on next year’s budget for Worcester County public schools with a parents input session on Tuesday evening at the Board of Education building.

Each School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) was given a chance to speak, with most SIAC representatives asking that funding be maintained at current levels and that staff receive competitive salaries, though few asked specifically for raises for teachers and other school personnel.

By state law, the Worcester County Commissioners must provide the same amount of funding per pupil from year to year, a requirement known as maintenance of effort.

Buckingham Elementary School (BES) is asking that the next budget maintain current staff levels and the current materials of instruction budget. BES also needs eight new cafeteria tables and 18 student chairs. The tables are worn out and have been in place since the school was built.

“For special needs students, it is very important to keep class size to a minimum,” said Cedar Chapel Special School SIAC representative Mary Anne Price, who went on to ask that an educational assistant position cut in 2010 be restored. Educational assistants for special needs students take care of a variety of practical issues, from eating to health monitoring for seizures, in addition to assisting in the classroom, Price said.

Cedar Chapel would also like to make a long-term substitute position and assistant position permanent. The handicapped curb needs to be moved to allow students to be dropped off under the awning in bad weather, according to the budget request, and the drainage on the basketball court needs to be fixed. Cedar Chapel has also requested two Smart Boards.

“In these current economic times we’re asking only to preserve the resources our children have received in the past,” said Ocean City Elementary SIAC representative Roxanne Pitcher.

Ocean City Elementary is also requesting funding for a laundry list of repairs and improvements to the school, which is just a few years old, including repaired ceiling leaks, replacement of the OCES canopy sign, replacement of fabric in a showcase, numerous minor painting requests, a portable sound system amplifier for student vocal group OC Stars, foam padding on the west wall of the gym, replacement of document camera and lamps and two Smart Boards.

Pocomoke Elementary School would like to keep its current staff levels and allotments, with a specific request for a salary increase for all staff.

“We feel we would be doing a disservice to our staff and teachers not asking for a salary increase. We realize it is tough times and we probably will not get it,” said PES SIAC representative Heather Gladding.

Showell Elementary School (SES) is asking for a cost-of-living increase for staff, to keep the current staff size, to continue the after school and summer school programs and for a feasibility study on renovating or replacing the over crowded school to get the process started.

The school’s SIAC representative said members understand that funding a costly feasibility study might not be possible this budget year, but pointed out that there are 542 students at the school and the school needs nine outside trailers to accommodate the student body, which does not fit into the regular school building.

Feasibility studies, according to County Commissioner Linda Busick who represents the Showell area, are only good for two years once finished. As SES is not slated for any kind of serious planning work, much less construction of improvements, for several years, a feasibility study would expire before it could be used.

Snow Hill Elementary School also asked for a cost-of-living salary increase for all staff, as well as the maintenance of current staff and class sizes, and the continued funding of after school and summer school academies. Materials of instruction also should be maintained at the current level.

Berlin Intermediate School SIAC representative Gary Williams outlined his school’s specific funding requests, saying, “In the end we are simply asking for your support in maintaining what we have this year.”

BIS made several specific funding requests – maintain class sizes, maintain materials of instruction funding, covered walkways to the portable classrooms, a.k.a. trailers, air conditioning for the gym and locker rooms, replace the gym floor, more playground equipment, remodeling of the main hallway bathrooms, a 20 station wireless lab and 20 classroom computers, three LCD projectors, a document camera and five dry erase boards.

Last year, BIS lost two education assistant and one teacher position, which was transferred to another school.

“More cuts would be detrimental to our children,” said Williams.

Pocomoke Middle School asked for continued funding for the after-school program, sufficient funding for textbooks and materials of instruction, more  technology and education in its use, the replacement of HVAC units, 12 Smart Boards, and 15 document cameras.

Snow Hill Middle School took the bold step of asking for two additional teachers, another foreign language teacher and a technology teacher. SHMS also asked for additional funding for technology.

The school also requested continued funding for materials of instruction, funding for after  school and summer school programs, an upgrade to the HVAC system, replacement of aging computers, furniture, and a laser printer, a 25-station computer lab and a student networking server.

Stephen Decatur Middle School made two requests: three camera and LCD projector combinations with laptop computers and the replacement of 10 laptop computers. SIAC representative Laurie Kratner said SDMS was trying to live within its means and hold the line.

Pocomoke High School asked for a cost-of-living increase for teachers and staff, the retention of the same level of staffing, and an additional custodian because the expansion of the school will add about 47 percent more space to the school building.

Snow Hill High School lost two positions last year and is requesting that those positions be returned to the school this year.

This year’s request from SHHS also asked that maintenance of effort funding be sustained, that material of instruction funding stay at the same level, continued funding for after school and summer school programs, three document cameras with projectors, new student chairs in the band room, new microscopes, resurfacing of two tennis courts, replacement of auditorium carpet, replacement of stage curtains and repair or replacement of HVAC in classroom.

Stephen Decatur High School asked for replacement bleachers and lighting system in the gym, 100 new cafeteria chairs and eight folding tables, soundproofing between the band and choir room and maintenance of the after-school academy and materials of instruction funding.

“In these economic times there are no key requests but one: please don’t take anything more from Worcester Technical High School (WTHS),” longtime vo-tech booster Ginger Gillis said.

WTHS did ask for an increase in funding for materials of instruction, at least 25 percent more, and funding to repair or replace equipment. The school also asked to keep current staff levels.

After all the SIAC representatives had spoke, the meeting was then opened to the public for comments.

Ed Lee, chair of the Worcester County NAACP, was the only speaker.

“This is going to be a fun year. I think our position will be wait and see,” said Lee. “This year we’re not going to come forward and make any requests.”

Public support will be key during the budget process, he said.

“I’m sure there’ll come a time when your support is needed,” said Board of Education chair Bob Hulburd. “All the support you’re giving [here tonight] is like preaching to the choir. … It was a tough year last year and it could be a tough year this year.“

Board member Jonathan Cook reiterated Hulburd’s comments, affirming how he views his role on the school board.

“We recognize our responsibility to advocate for all the children of Worcester County and we intend to do just that this year,” said Cook.

Board member Doug Dryden said the SIAC members’ support will be needed when it comes time to lobby the County Commissioners for any additional money beyond maintenance of effort requirements.

“It will be a group effort this year to get the things we need, to get the support we need from the County Commissioners,” said Dryden. “Parents are a very powerful voice in this county.”

Friction between the Worcester County Commissioners and the Board of Education is not uncommon.

“It’s not an ‘us versus them’ situation, so it’s a ‘we’ situation,” said Hulburd. “We’re going to take the high road. We’re going to do things the right way,” said Hulburd.

The school board must submit a budget to the County Commissioners in late February.