Small Cut Of State Funding Irks School Board

Travis Brown
Staff Writer

NEWARK – The Board of Education is not happy with the additional funding Worcester County schools are receiving from Maryland.

The county will be granted $163,927 via the Federal Education Jobs bill. However, that is just a fraction of the $179 million given to the state by the federal government, less than 1 percent, to be specific. The school board believed Worcester County deserved more of the state’s educational budget.

Dr. Jon Andes, superintendent of schools, listened calmly to the debate amongst the board for several minutes before entering the discussion. He reminded his colleagues that, out of that $179 million, Gov. Martin O’Malley had only allocated $40 million to be used this year, putting the remaining money away in reserve. Still, Andes agreed that $163,927 was not a fair portion of $40 million.

Andes clarified the funding allocation process that the governor used, saying that O’Malley had two formulas to choose from when distributing the money, the ‘Title One’ and the ‘State Aid Formula.’ The state aid formula calculates county wealth based heavily on real estate value. O’Malley chose to use it instead of Title One, which places much less emphasis on property worth.

“Worcester is the wealthiest county by that formula, so we received the second least amount of funding,” Andes said.

The main reason for the county’s perceived wealth is the high property value of Ocean City real estate but having a county full of expensive property doesn’t necessarily translate into a high household income, according to Andes.  

“Forty percent of our students qualify for free and reduced meals,” Andes said, referring to the fact that more than a third of county students are in a troubled enough financial situation to be eligible for assistance with buying school lunches.

“We have one of the lowest median household incomes in Maryland,” added Andes.

Bob Hulburd, school board chair, also commented on the drastic difference between the financial reality of Worcester County and how it is viewed when the state’s education budget is being drawn up.

“We are poorer than ever and receiving less money then ever,” Hulburd said.
Andes agreed, saying, “It’s not a fair formula.”

This is an interesting point, as it represents a catch-22 in Maryland’s funding process. Worcester County has several schools that have been recognized on both a state and national level for excellence. Yet the better a county does, the less funding it receives, as schools who are struggling tend to get the most attention and assistance from the state. Several board members referred to the situation as, “being penalized for success.”

“Successful school systems are not getting the money to stay successful,” said Andes. “The money is being distributed to less successful schools.”

Unfortunately, Andes didn’t see much hope in getting the system changed any time soon and commented that Worcester County, which was shorted on funds both because of a flawed system of wealth evaluation and a tendency to take money away from schools if they are doing well, would have to make do as best they could.

“Delegate [Bennett] Bozman worked hard, Delegate [Norman] Conway worked hard to change the state formula,” he said.

However, since the number of each delegates each county has is based on population, and Worcester has one of the smallest year-round populations in the state, the county does not have enough delegates to seriously affect the vote. Thus, other county delegates would have to vote to reduce their own educational budgets to make things fair for Worcester, something Andes did not think was likely.

“We will continue to pound on the table,” Andes promised. “The system isn’t fair to the children.”

In the mean time, the board tried to get the most it could out of the limited funds it was granted.

“We’re proud in Worcester County that we spend our dollars on students in the classroom,” Andes said. “We’re using the money wisely to keep two very successful programs going.”

The programs Andes referred to were for “after school/summer school” activities at Pocomoke and Snow Hill High schools. The board voted unanimously to approve granting the $163,927 to those two programs.