Teacher Step Increases Proposed For Education Budget; One-Time Capital Project Funding Sought

NEWARK – Worcester County school officials have proposed additional expenditures to next year’s budget that will address salary raises and five other areas of need within the school system.

In a Worcester County Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Chief Financial Officer Vince Tolbert outlined next year’s proposed budget and detailed changes that will go before the County Commissioners for approval in the upcoming months.

Although a majority of line items remain unchanged from the current fiscal year, the Board of Education will seek additional funding for various financial demands – bus replacements and additions, rising health insurance costs, increases to the local share of teachers’ pensions, one-time capital improvement projects and pay increases.

“We have been very fiscally responsible,” Superintendent Lou Taylor said. “Again, not many, if any, of our categories have increased.”

According to Tolbert, this year’s step increase – a salary increase based on experience – is expected to cost more than $1.1 million, not including cost-of-living adjustments, which is expected to add $611,449 to the proposed budget.

Although salary negotiations are ongoing, Taylor said he hopes the involved parties will reach an agreement before the Board of Education approves the proposed budget in late February. He added that changes to salaries will be reflected in the line items by the next meeting.

The salary negotiations are part of an ongoing effort to attract and retain the best teachers and staff, according to Taylor.

Taylor added that salary increases will make the county more competitive.

“We need to ensure that our educators and our staff are fairly compensated,” he said. “We should be consistently attracting and maintaining high-quality teachers and staff and the best way to do this is to remain competitive in terms of compensation and benefits.”

Among the other added expenditures, Taylor noted the proposed FY 2018 budget will be the first in many years to address large, one-time construction projects.

“The biggest change in our budget going forward is one-time capital improvements,” he said. “It’s been close to eight or nine years since we have done anything of that magnitude. Speaking with the commissioners, I felt that it was important that we start going down the road of trying to repair some of the things that are really worn out.”

The $566,100 in proposed one-time capital improvements would address four projects – energy management system upgrades at Buckingham Elementary and Snow Hill Middle schools, a chiller replacement at Stephen Decatur Middle School and a shaded courtyard swing at Cedar Chapel Special School.

“We are going to be requesting $500,000 for the first time in several years,” Tolbert said. “We are going to get some funding to do one-time capital improvements in the school system, which are greatly needed.”

Tolbert said state revenue will increase by $95,000 in FY 2018. Maintenance of effort – the minimal amount the county must provide under state law – is expected to increase by $2.38 million based on draft numbers by the Maryland Department of Education.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.