Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

Education is a critical issue and in the coming months, as attention turns slightly away from tourism, we plan to put a larger focus on the issues within local schools.

This week’s interview with Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson was one example. One of the more fascinating aspects of this week’s interview to me was Wilson’s reporting that “84% of our budget is tied to people’s salaries and benefits.” That’s an astounding and disturbing number, but as I thought more about it there’s nothing more important in education than the people guiding our children, from the teachers, educational assistants and guidance counselors to the principals, administrators and special education therapists.

As important as it is to recognize the tremendous impact these individuals have on students, it’s also important to quantify that number from a business perspective. That 84% figure is essentially a fixed annual cost, leaving little wiggle room when it comes to other education expenses. It underscores the tremendous stress on the budget every year because salaries and benefits expenses will never decrease.

That’s why I believe the Worcester County Education Foundation’s work is so paramount because it brings a private revenue source to the school system to assist with an area that does not get the critical funding it needs — technology. The concept of private funds helping to boost a school system is new to this area but it’s common in many other areas and is the wave of the future. Hospitals and private schools have long used this approach to much success.

Another number that surprised me this week was 44%, as in the number of students in Worcester County who come from homes at or below the poverty level. In Wicomico that figure is about 60% and in Somerset it’s a disturbing 89%. It became such a concern and distraction in Somerset that all meals in school were made free.

“If kids are coming to school hungry, they are not attentive, they can have behavioral issues, and they have trouble learning,” said Somerset County Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Gaddis, a former principal and administrator in Worcester. “We have to pay attention to social issues like poverty, because for us in Somerset, as I imagine it is in Worcester and Wicomico on a smaller scale, this is an opportunity to do something that has economic, educational and nutritional impact.”

Firefighters and paramedics are traditionally a private bunch who don’t like to talk about themselves and the heroic actions they carry out on a routine basis outside of their own circles.

That’s why we thought it would be a good idea to sit down this week with Del Baker, a firefighter/paramedic who has retired after more than three decades in Ocean City. Baker has arguably been the most high-profile emergency responder in Ocean City during his years of service because he almost always seemed to be involved in the most high-profile incidents.

Baker touched on one of the more memorable situations in his career this week. It was nine years ago when he was among the first to arrive on the scene involving a father and three daughters caught in a rip current after the lifeguards were off duty. He was able to get to a young girl and save her while her older sister made it in on her own. Unfortunately, the father and the other 15-year-old sister died that day.

“I always try to talk to the victims when I get to them to try and calm them down, but she was just frozen with fear,” said Baker. “It was so foggy and the waters were choppy and when I got her back to shore, I remember seeing her mother on her hands and knees praying. I saw that the older girl had gotten back on her own, but I knew we had two more victims in the water, so I got right back out there as fast as I could, but we couldn’t save them.”

Baker went on to say he stays in contact with the mother in this situation. He said, “To be honest, they have impacted my life as much as what I was able to do impacted theirs.”

Thanks to Del for his work all these years.