Education Supporters Ask Commissioners To Fully Fund Schools’ Proposed $88.4M Budget

SNOW HILL – Requests for education funding dominated Worcester County’s annual public budget hearing.

As county officials presented Worcester County’s proposed $211 million budget at Snow Hill High School Tuesday, most comments from the public sought funding for the local school system.

“Our schools wouldn’t be the same without your help,” Snow Hill resident Laura Rosenfeld said.

In a presentation at the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Worcester County Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said the county faced a shortfall with the proposed budget, as expenditures were projected to exceed $211 million while revenues were estimated at slightly more than $202 million.

Education funding, Higgins said, made up 47.8 percent of the proposed expenditures. Roughly 16.8 percent of the county’s spending goes to public safety, while 11.2 percent goes to local municipalities. Higgins said 9.7 percent went to general government and debt, 7.2 percent went to health, recreation and libraries, 4.1 percent went to public works and 2.4 percent went to retiree benefits. Less than 1 percent is spent on tourism and economic development.

Higgins said the $8.9 million shortfall in the proposed budget would be reconciled through a reduction in expenditures or the creation of additional revenues.

Representatives of a handful of social service groups who regularly seek grants from the county approached the commissioners to talk about their efforts in the community. Sandy Sipes, director of Worcester GOLD, told officials the organization was seeking an increase for the first time in at least six years so that it could provide more help to those in need. She said the organization helped 3,799 people in 2017.

“Every time we turn around we’re asked for more and more help,” she said.

Jack Ferry, executive director of the Worcester County Developmental Center, said the Newark facility was growing. Four years ago, there were 83 clients and 84 employees. Now there are 104 clients and 116 employees. He also thanked the commissioners for their support of the center and visits with clients.

“You have no idea how that pumps them up…,” he said. “That care you can’t put a dollar figure on.”

Debbie Anderson spoke on behalf of Diakonia, which provides shelter and other resources to those in need in West Ocean City. She said last year the facility provided 10,554 bed nights and 52,000 meals to those in need. She added that aside from the immediate help, Diakonia staff connected people with more long-term assistance.

“We connect them with the resources and funds they need to get them on their feet,” she said.

Stacey Weisner, president and CEO of the Delmarva Discovery Center, said the Pocomoke facility was open 361 days a year and saw a growing number of visitors from outside the area. She said that while the center didn’t plan to ask for county funding forever, it was often able to leverage government funding to get grants.

“We’re very mindful of the limited funds you have,” she said.

The majority of the comments made during Tuesday’s public hearing came from parents seeking support for the school system’s operating budget request of $88.4 million. Superintendent Lou Taylor said Worcester County’s students continued to exceed state performance standards. He added that the county had low dropout rates and had the highest graduation rata in the state. He said the proposed school budget had been developed with the best interest of local children in mind.

“This budget is focused solely on the things we truly believe will make an impact on our students,” he said.

Bishopville parent Megan Muller thanked the commissioners for moving plans to replace Showell Elementary School ahead and asked that they fund the budget request.

“I’d ask that you support the budget Mr. Taylor presented in its entirety,” she said. “Mr. Taylor knows what our schools need.”

A parent from Pocomoke said she hoped the commissioners would support a budget that maintained small class sizes and included the compensation needed to attract and keep quality teachers.

“I know you have a tough decision to make,” she said. “We thank you for all that you do.”

Beth Shockley-Lynch, president of the Worcester County Teachers Association, said Worcester County Public Schools faced the same challenges school systems throughout the country did. One of those issues, she said, was the fact that of new teachers, roughly half quit within the first five years.

“If we want great schools we have to find and keep great teachers,” she said.

As proposed, she said the budget included funding for a step increase and a 1 percent cost of living increase for teachers as well as a 1.5 percent increase for support staff.

Commissioner Diana Purnell thanked citizens for attending Tuesday’s session and said that officials would work to eliminate the budget shortfall in the coming weeks.

“What we’re trying to do is the very best we can to take care of the county,” she said. “Our job is not easy.”

The commissioners have a budget work session scheduled for May 8.

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.