Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – October 7, 2016

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – October 7, 2016

Berlin’s voters have spoken. Actually, 740 of the more than 3,172 registered voters made their choice. That’s a pathetic voter turnout rate of 23 percent, compared to even more dismal 17 percent in 2012 when there was one contested council race and 32 percent in 2008 when the mayor’s seat was up for grabs as well as two council seats.

For those who did take the time to vote on Tuesday, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams dominated Councilwoman Lisa Hall, securing 81 percent of the vote. I admit to being wrong with my estimation last month that this would be a “fairly close” contest, but in my defense it was before Hall’s arrest for pot in South Carolina and the subsequent inconsistent comments made to Staff Writer Charlene Sharpe about the charges.

Williams was consistent across all four voting districts in Berlin on the way to the victory, including Hall’s home council district where he registered 248 votes to her 57.

As far as the council race goes, Zackery Tyndall earned 61 percent of the vote, securing 177 votes compared to 116 for opponent Jack Orris, Jr.

After a couple days to reflect on the election, I have two takeaways.

First, a small town like Berlin should have better voter turnout and it’s incumbent upon residents to encourage their peers to take the time and do it. Voter turnout by district Tuesday was District 1, 24 percent; District 2 (where there was the contested council race), 37 percent; District 3 (where the incumbent councilman was not challenged), 13 percent; and District 4, 16 percent.

Secondly, with Williams cruising to his third term by a wide margin, it’s clear the great majority of the town’s electorate is pleased with the direction of the town.

All is quiet on the electron front in Ocean City. The filing deadline in Ocean City is Tuesday and thus far only incumbents Doug Cymek, Dennis Dare, Tony DeLuca and Mary Knight have filed for office. Although he hasn’t filed, Mayor Rick Meehan is expected to do so before the deadline.

An obvious question would be: if there are no challengers to the incumbents, is an election even necessary. Apparently, City Solicitor Guy Ayres is researching the matter in the event nobody else files before Tuesday’s deadline.

Unless there is a law that requires it, and there’s plenty of precedent to say that’s not the case, I would hope the city cancels the election because it would be worthless. That’s what Berlin did two years ago when there were no contested races. In that election, Councilman Dean Burrell was unchallenged for District 4 and Thom Gulyas was the only individual who filed for the at-large seat that was previously held by Paula Lynch, who left her seat after more than two decades in office.

There’s no reason to spend the money unnecessarily.

The Baltimore Sun’s Editorial Board continues to blast the post-Labor Day school start mandate and this week it basically encouraged school systems to seek a waiver because starting school in September will cause irreparable harm to students and teachers. That’s laughable.

As readers may recall, a part of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Executive Order requiring schools start after Labor Day and be done by June 15 is a waiver process. In what appears to be a similar process to how inclement weather days can be forgiven if adequate measures to make them up can be proven, the State Board of Education can grant waivers to individual school systems to start before the summer holiday or go beyond the end date.

“Members of the Maryland State Board of Education — particularly some appointees of Gov. Larry Hogan — showed some real backbone this week in effectively inviting local school districts to apply for waivers to the governor’s executive order requiring that public school start after Labor Day. Their job is to make decisions to promote and improve Maryland’s system of public education, not to improve Maryland’s tourism economy, and their commitment to “expeditiously” approve non-conforming school calendars provided local boards offer “reasonable explanations of the educational benefits to students” is entirely consistent with that mission,” the opinion piece read. “Governor Hogan’s executive order says the state board has “sole discretion” to approve one-year waivers to the requirement that school begin after Labor Day and end no later than June 15 “based on compelling justification.” It should be entirely possible for the state board to grant waivers liberally while adhering to that standard. From an educational policy perspective, there are no small number of “compelling justifications” for districts to start the school year earlier than Governor Hogan’s order would allow.”

The examples cited in the editorial to prove “compelling justifications” include summer learning loss, standardized testing and professional development.

These are the same excuses that have been cited for years to oppose the post-Labor Day school start. To that, I say take a look at Worcester County’s public schools. For at least the last three years, schools have started here after Labor Day and the school system is in the top five of every single evaluation available when ranking jurisdictional performances. There is no justification to rationalize that starting school after Labor Day will lead to unprepared teachers, poor test scores and a summer brain drain. Worcester County proves that year-in and year-out.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.