Wicomico Education Budget Passed Amid Fears

SALISBURY — The Wicomico County Board of Education this week reluctantly passed consolidated fiscal year 2012 budget, which includes cuts of nearly $5 million less than the current year’s spending plan, but not before issuing some stern comments about the future of the county’s schools if the trend continues.

At a special meeting on Tuesday, the Wicomico Board of Education approved the fiscal year 2012 consolidated budget of $168.6 million, which is $4.9 million less than the public school budget that expired today. Over the last year, public school funding in Wicomico has dropped by over $15.8 million, representing a downward trend school board officials warned could not continue without compromising the education of the students in the county.

“There’s nothing good in this list of budget reductions,” said Board of Education President L. Michelle Wright on Tuesday. “It concerns me that among the cuts, we have put off purchases of equipment, technology and textbooks.”

Board of Education officials warned while the budget process has been difficult for the last two years, during which $15.8 million has been cut, it will likely be even more painful in fiscal year 2013.

Wicomico Superintendent Dr. John Fredericksen and his staff are already projecting budget shortfalls between $7 million and $10 million next year.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say a storm is on the horizon,” said Wicomico County Schools Comptroller E. Bruce Ford on Tuesday. “A storm is approaching and our financial future does not look good.”

Board officials said the funding cuts the school system has already endured, coupled with the expectation of even more to come, will mean that public education in the county will have to change dramatically. The level of educational services residents and parents have come to expect in Wicomico will have to change, and not for the better. For that reason, Wright said parents, teachers, administrators and students should be prepared to temper their expectations of the school system in the future.

“If you want athletics, if you want band, if you want whatever’s not required by law to continue to be funded by our budget, then your support is needed,” she said. “Parents have to get involved in the budget process and let their voices be heard.”

While Wicomico schools took a budget hit from many revenue sources, the largest reduction came from the county government. Wicomico County’s aid to public schools was cut by another $7 million, or over 16 percent, from the current year’s budget. The county’s total appropriation to its public schools came in at just over $36 million, a level not seen since the 1998-1999 school year budget.