County Approves School System’s Capital Project Plan

BERLIN – Education officials put an emphasis on the lack of state funding Worcester County’s school system receives as they presented capital plans to the Worcester County Commissioners this week.

On Wednesday, the Worcester County Commissioners unanimously approved the school system’s capital improvement program (CIP) but not before questioning the level of state funding Worcester County Public Schools received. School system officials confirmed that the county received just a fraction of the state aid other counties received.

“It’s grossly unfair I believe,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.

Education officials presented the commissioners with a CIP that includes a handful of capital improvements planned for the immediate future. The CIP includes a new Showell Elementary School, roof replacement at Pocomoke Middle School, an addition at Stephen Decatur Middle School, roof replacements at Pocomoke and Snow Hill elementary schools and a renovation or replacement of Buckingham Elementary School.

Superintendent Lou Taylor stressed that the CIP was a planning tool.

“We are not asking for your commitment to funding any future projects today,” he said.

Bertino pointed out that the second page of the CIP stated that Worcester County’s state/local cost share was 50 percent even though the county hadn’t been getting 50 percent of what it spent on school construction from the state.

“We really don’t get 50 percent,” Bertino said.

Joe Price, the school system’s facilities planner, explained that Worcester County was officially considered a “50 percent” county because the state provided 50 percent of what it cost to build a structure that met minimum standards. He said by state standards, the existing Showell Elementary School was large enough because 25 students could fit in each classroom.

“That’s how they calculate their rating capacity,” he said. “We don’t do that.”

He added that in the case of the new Showell Elementary, the county had designed a 97,000-square-foot school.

“We get 50 percent of what a 60,000-square-foot school would cost (from the state),” he said.

Price said the school system had included in this year’s CIP a chart that illustrated how much funding Worcester County Public Schools had received from the state for capital projects during the past decade. Across Maryland, the average CIP funding provided by the state per student was $386.73. In Worcester County, the CIP funding per pupil is $151.21.

“Before they start talking about cutting Worcester County state funding even more, we want to get ahead in saying we’re already at the bottom,” Price said.

Bertino pointed out that Worcester County could be hurt by the fact that its schools were well-kept.

“Baltimore City could end up at the top (of state funding charts),” he said. “Because we maintain our schools its possible we wouldn’t see funding for another 30 years or so.”

As with capital funding, Worcester County schools also receive little operational funding from the state. Officials said the school system received roughly 18 percent of its operating budget from the state. Counties such as Wicomico and Somerset receive close to 80 percent of their school system budgets from the state.

Taylor stressed that officials were doing what they could to address the disparity and added that they might need to call on the commissioners for support as they did so.

“We’re fighting very hard,” he said.

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.