Budget Sessions Always Revealing

Although they may not be the most fascinating meetings, the budget work sessions various governments on the local front are holding this time of year are prime ways to learn about public spending in detail.

In Ocean City and Worcester County this week, individual departments presented their planned budgets for the year, explaining why they are asking for the funding they are in their respective spending plans.

During one of those meetings, an interesting discussion was held on new teacher salaries between the County Commissioners and the Board of Education. In most governments, education spending is the sacred cow that is long on support and short on critiquing. That’s odd because it typically represents about half of most county budgets.

During this week’s Board of Education budget review, it was disturbing to hear starting teacher salaries in Worcester County have dropped to the second lowest on the shore and 16th in Maryland.

However, it becomes alarming coupled with the fact Worcester spends on a per-pupil basis more than any other state school system. The county spends $16,277 on average educating a child. No other county in Maryland spends more than $16,000 per child.

The fact Worcester’s starting teacher salary ($42,222) has fallen off in its ranking compared to the fact the county spends more than any other county in Maryland on a per-pupil basis led to some questions this week from Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who has stated in the past his concern too much money is tied up in administrative salaries and benefits.

“I’m beginning to wonder exactly how and where we’re spending that money,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson reported it’s in the classrooms, saying, “I would say what we have in Worcester County is very low pupil-to-teacher ratios that many other counties would very much like to have. And that is the basis for why we see the numbers that you are describing.”

The school system hopes the county will see fit to give an additional $3.4 million this year to the Board of Education, raising the cost to the county to roughly $79.4 million. Not all of that increase will be spent on bumping up new teacher salaries, as an across-the-board raise for all teachers is also requested as well as more technology funding.

Worcester must improve its starting teacher rank, but it can’t do so while increasing the per-pupil spending beyond its current level, the highest by far in the state. The only immediate way to do that is to increase the taxpayers’ contribution, which will surely happen to some degree, while making more cuts, which will also have to happen.