Wicomico Executive Vows Full Funding For Board Of Education

SALISBURY – Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver announced his plans this week to fully fund the Board of Education’s requests in the proposed fiscal year 2020 operating budget.

In a public hearing Wednesday, Culver presented a $148 million proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2020. The spending plan includes $800,000 above maintenance of effort to fully fund Superintendent Donna Hanlin’s Imagine 2022 initiative, which would establish universal pre-K, improve the graduation rate, and attract and retain a strong workforce.

“Your willingness to listen and recommend the funding for Imagine 2022 speaks volumes about your belief in the importance of investing in our community,” Hanlin said.

The announcement was a welcomed surprise to several educators, parents and business leaders in attendance. Eileen Johnson, representing the advocacy group Wicomico PUSH-4Education, thanked officials for listening to the group’s concerns. In recent weeks, PUSH4Education members have met with county leaders and have garnered nearly 1,000 signatures in an online petition to support Hanlin’s Imagine 2022 plan.

“We are so incredibly grateful for you for doing this and listening to us ,” she said. “Right now, we are focusing our message at the county council, to ask them to please keep this money in the budget.”

Mike Dunn, president and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee, commended the county executive for his support of Imagine 2022.

“Putting in full funding for Imagine 2022 is unimaginable,” he said. “This is saying to the community that investment in education matters.”

Susan Purnell, chair of the Wi-comico County Education Foundation, said her organization would continue to support the county’s efforts to invest in education.

“It’s for the first time tonight I feel Imagine 2022 can become Reality 2022,” she said. “Thank you for putting this forth in the budget.”

Randy Day, CEO of Perdue Farms, applauded the county executive’s decision and recognized the tough choices officials made to fully fund Imagine 2022 initiatives.

“I have a particular issue in my business and that’s recruiting people to this area,” he said. “I’m trying to bring executives to this area, and I can get them to take the job, but all too often they want to go to Talbot County or Worcester County. There’s an issue and this will help.”

County Councilman Bill McCain also applauded Culver’s commitment to education.

“I feel you’ve moved the needle in the right direction,” he said.

The spending plan calls for $46.15 million in county appropriations to the board of education. The proposed budget also includes $16.5 million for corrections, $12.8 million for the sheriff’s department, $10.2 million for the roads department and $5.7 million for Wor-Wic Community College.

Wayne Strausburg, the county’s director of administration, said several departments were able to cut requests for the coming year to fund increases for the board of education, community college, emergency services, public health and debt retirement.

“If you look at where the increased spending is, it’s by and large in education, health education and public safety,” he said.

Strausburg noted, however, that this year’s budget comes with several challenges.

“The prospect of a slowing economy, coupled with pricey state mandates, has made forecasting this year much more difficult than it has been in past years,” he said. “So, our consensus is we need to be a bit cautious until that picture clears.”

He said legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour is expected to cost the county $7 million annually. And plans to implement recommendations from the state’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education – or Kirwan Commission – could create long-lasting impacts.

“The Kirwan Commission’s anticipated spending from 2020 to 2030 is $3.8 billion and the state has not identified any revenue source yet …,” he said. “It’s a concern to those of us in the 24 jurisdictions and municipalities as to how that would be affordable, how much of that will the counties and municipalities have to bear.”

While income tax revenue is expected to trend downward, Strausburg said disparity grants will increase by $679,000 in the coming fiscal year, while highway user revenue and real property tax revenue will increase by $120,000 and $1.57 million, respectively.

Culver is expected to submit his budget to the Wicomico County Council in April.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.