SNOW HILL – Requests for education funding highlighted Worcester County’s annual public hearing on the proposed budget.
While the crowd was packed with teachers and school system administrators, the majority of those who spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing at Snow Hill High School were parents of children in the public school system. They repeatedly asked the Worcester County Commissioners to provide funding for the salary increases, school security, capital improvements and technology included in budget submitted by the school system.
“It’s my belief the school system budget before you will ensure continued success,” Superintendent Lou Taylor said.
Taylor, the first speaker when it came time for comments relating to the proposed education budget, reminded the commissioners of the success local students had on the PARCC assessment as well as of the county’s high graduation rate. He introduced Pocomoke High School senior LeAnn McDowall, who will be attending Cornell University in the fall, and Stephen Decatur High School senior Peyton Dunham, who will be attending Harvard University.
“Our philosophy to maintain this level of success is very simple,” he said. “Kids are at the heart of everything we do.”
Taylor said it was critical that the county continue to recruit, hire and retain high quality teachers. Small class sizes, differentiated instruction, after school programs and school safety are important as well, he said.
“I know this particular task of creating a fiscally sound budget that meets the needs of all is a demanding and ultimately thankless job,” he said. “I know I speak for everyone in the school system when I say we are grateful for your public service.”
Rob Baker, parent of a student at Cedar Chapel Special School, asked the commissioners to continue to support the school system. He described the positive impact Cedar Chapel has had on his son.
“Our schools are great because our county leaders understand the importance of a quality school system,” he said.
Nancy Holland, a member of Buckingham Elementary School’s School Improvement Advisory Committee, addressed the need for competitive teacher salaries, school security and capital improvements. She said the HVAC system at Buckingham in particular needed to be replaced.
“We want to maintain a healthy environment for our children,” she said.
Doug Andrews, parent of a Snow Hill High School student, asked the commissioners to support teacher salaries, school security efforts and capital improvements, particularly the construction of a new Showell Elementary School.
“We’re asking you to recognize the value our educational programs bring back to Worcester County,” he said.
Parent Melinda Taylor described how the biomedical program at Worcester Technical High School had inspired her daughter’s interest in becoming a nurse. She said the school system had provided her children with programs to challenge them and keep them interested. She urged the commissioners to keep salaries and benefits competitive to maintain the county’s high quality school system.
“I know it’s a tough job managing budgets,” she said. “We thank you so much.”
All of the parents who spoke expressed their appreciation for the work local educators and the school system as a whole did.
“Every single staff member in our schools plays a role in making our children ready for the future,” Kandy Davis said.
There were also requests for technology funding.
“Most of the jobs our children are going to get will be in technology,” Joy Connor said.
Christina Hulslander, a parent of two Snow Hill Middle School students, echoed the general comments voiced by the majority of the parents but also spoke about the need for a new HVAC system at her children’s school.
“My son struggles at the end of the day to not fall asleep when it’s 85 degrees in his classroom,” she said.
Beth Shockley-Lynch, president of the Worcester County Teachers Association, said the county’s educators face challenges, as educators everywhere do, and were grateful for the commissioners’ support.
“We appreciate that you are working with us to make our county the best it can be,” she said. “
Shockley-Lynch criticized the state’s funding formula, which pegs Worcester as one of the richest counties in the state, and praised the county’s efforts to acquire more state funding.
“It’s just wrong that the state limits funds to our county based upon an unfair funding formula in which Worcester receives the lowest amount of state aid,” she said. “We wish you success in fighting to get our fair share.”
Shockley-Lynch stressed the important role teachers played.
“What other job has the awesome responsibility to shape the future for all of us?” she said. “We are asking you to make the right choice and fund the board of education budget request.”
One speaker, Ocean City resident Ellie Diegelmann, questioned the county’s education spending. She said the county was spending $17,000 per pupil.
“I think that is dramatically high and should be reduced,” she said.
Diegelmann also pointed to school bus alarms that were recently in the news and said the purchase of those alarms was an example of local spending habits.
“What other expenditures are there that could be reconsidered?” she said. “In so far as the alarm equipment, I didn’t think that was justified. Contractors should be responsible enough that they’re inspecting their buses for the children without special equipment. I use that as an example of anything else that shouldn’t fall under the responsibility of the taxpayers.”
McDowall told the commissioners she was a product of the county’s school system.
“Because of your support I received a world class education,” she said. “We are the future and we depend on your support. We are well worth the investment.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting thanked attendees and told the crowd that the commissioners would work on balancing the budget during three work sessions later this month. As it stands now, the commissioners have a $6.6 million shortfall to address.
“I really appreciate the comments from a few of the speakers tonight that you understand our task that we have to do as county commissioners” Bunting said. “There’s a big difference between revenues and expenditures. I appreciate you understanding that.”