Schools Super Clarifies Education Funding Confusion

SNOW HILL — Worcester County won’t be receiving as big a slice of state funding as some may have expected, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes.

Andes and other members of the Board of Education met with the County Commissioners Tuesday to present a revised Maintenance of Effort Fiscal Year 2012 budget.

During the presentation, Andes took a moment to clarify what he perceived as misconceptions the public might have about funding the Board of Education will receive in the future. Specifically, he explained that three sources of capital that appeared to be aimed at education in Worcester would not be as beneficial as first hoped. Those sources are slots revenue, the alcohol tax and a 2-percent retirement fee.

The first issue that Andes addressed was revenue from the slots recently installed at Ocean Downs. According to Andes, a large percentage of the community expected to see significant revenue generated by the slots turning around and going right back to the county to fund education.

“That’s not true,” said Andes.

While Ocean Downs does contribute a portion of its slots profits to education and other agencies in Worcester, a lot of that money is first sent up to Annapolis and placed in the General Fund. The General Assembly then handles distribution, and Andes reminded the commissioners that, by the state formula, Worcester is the second least funded county in Maryland because the formula finds it to be second wealthiest jurisdiction in the state.

Despite Ocean Downs being located in Worcester, that formula is still used, meaning the money the county receives will be drastically watered-down after its trip through Annapolis.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley also considered the slot revenue distribution unfair, especially since the county was responsible for providing emergency and other services to Ocean Downs.

On top of that, Shockley commented that Worcester also had to deal with any negative impacts of the casino and took a moment to remind the public about Baltimore City receiving a share of Worcester’s slots revenue.

“We get the aftermath,” he said. “Why should Baltimore City get 18 percent (of revenue) off the damn top?”

Shockley also worried that, instead of contributing money to the county, the slots might actually cost Worcester money in the long run.

“How in the world can you end up with nothing?” he asked.

The second issue Andes clarified was that the recently approved increase in Maryland’s alcohol tax would have the same problems as slots revenue and that neither would be the “windfall” county residents were hoping for and told.

Just like casino profits, revenue generated from the increased alcohol tax will have to make the trek to Annapolis and the General Assembly before it filters back to Worcester in smaller pieces than when it left. The 50 percent statewide raise in alcohol taxes, from 6 to 9 percent, will be implemented 1 percent per year over the next three years and is expected to bring in about $85 million.

While much of that has been bookmarked for education and civic improvement, the Western Shore will receive the bulk of the revenue, with eight counties on the Eastern Shore, including Worcester, sharing the remainder.

Andes guessed that revenue would total around $1 million and that Worcester would probably only see $30,000 to $40,000 of that.

A final sticking point for Andes is a 2-percent pay cut to all school system employees. While the 2-percent cut is supposed to go toward employee retirement, Andes pointed out that, once again, it actually goes to the state’s General Fund, where it is then distributed by legislators.

“So that’s additional income tax, is what that is,” said County Attorney Sonny Bloxom.

Compounding that 2-percent cut, says Andes, is the fact that school employees haven’t had any kind of raise for the last three years.

After clearing up those three points, Andes said that he hoped everyone had a better understanding of why the Board of Education budget ended up structured the way it is. He added that, of the $91 million the Board of Education has budgeted to spend in 2012, more than $72 million of that is expected to come from the county, with state and federal funds covering the rest.

“You have to live within your budget,” said Andes, who acknowledged the fact that funds were tight all around.

However, he expressed a hope that the commissioners would be able to affirm the budget that the Board of Education presented to them when everything was finalized in June.

“Without your support, we couldn’t be number three,” he said, referring to Worcester’s ranking amongst state school systems.

Board of Education President Bob Hulburd agreed with Andes, thanking the commissioners but being realistic about budget concerns.

“Worcester County has always been very supportive of education,” he said, adding that the whole system was a wheel and that money was what kept it rolling.