Schools As Polls Questioned

NEWARK – Election day use of county schools should be reviewed or possibly eliminated, the Worcester County Board of Education concluded last week while discussing the 2010/2011 school year calendar.

The school schedule in fall 2010 includes two election days, which are holidays for students, and professional development days for staff.

Seven of Worcester County’s 14 schools are used as polling stations. The other seven schools would be used for professional development.

“It’s very difficult to have an election and have school at the same time,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes. Consequently, the school board customarily gives students the day off.

The elections seem to be problematic for scheduling, several board members pointed out. The first election day comes just three weeks into the school year. 

“Times have changed since we’ve done that,” said Board of Education member Donny Shockley.

He said the MAC Centers, libraries, and fire stations should be considered as alternative polling stations in place of the schools.

It costs the school board to keep schools open for the elections, said Board Chair Bob Hulburd.

“Maybe there’s a way to get the heating bill paid,” he said.

Ed Lee, chair of the Worcester County NAACP, a frequent attendee of school board meetings, protested against moving the polling places and asked that the NAACP be kept informed.

“It would be detrimental to the minority community to have voting places that would be difficult to get to,” Lee said.

The Board of Education does not choose polling places, Andes said. That is the responsibility of the Board of Elections.

“We don’t make the final call on that by any stretch of the imagination,” said Hulburd.

The NAACP needs to be kept informed so members can participate in any future discussions of changes to the county’s voting stations, said Lee.

The topic would be discussed in the open Board of Education meetings, Board member Gary Mumford said.

“I want an official letter sent to the NAACP,” said Lee, who cannot always attend meetings. “They do not need to miss that, because of the impact on the community.”

“We’re not asking for any changes at this point. We’re just pointing out an issue that needs to be looked at down the road,” said Hulburd.

During the discussion, the school board approved a calendar for 2010/2011 including the two election days.

Next school year will begin before Labor Day, the school board also decided during the discussion. One of the reasons the schools will open before Labor Day next year was the lateness of the holiday.

“We’d miss instruction time,” said Andes. “In the state of education today, the school calendar is being drive by the testing calendar … we’re trying to create a school calendar which addresses the instructional needs of the students. The state testing schedule doesn’t change depending on when Labor Day is.”

The school system just recently switched to a pre-Labor Day start.

“We were the only county in the state of Maryland that did not start before Labor Day and we suffered for it,” said Board member Sara Thompson.

If in the future Worcester’s schools opened after Labor Day, and then needed a waiver of the 180 days of instruction minimum due to snow days, the state would not be sympathetic, Thompson said.