SALISBURY – Requests to restore capital funding for a school project dominated most of this week’s public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget and fiscal years 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Program for Wicomico County.
On Tuesday, parents, educators, students and community leaders gathered in the chambers of the Wicomico County Council to request funding for a renovation project at Mardela Middle and High School be placed back into the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for fiscal years 2020-2024.
In late April, community members were surprised to learn the money had been removed from County Executive Bob Culver’s proposed planning document because of future funding challenges.
Assistant Director of Administration Weston Young said this week the county did not want to commit to a multi-million dollar project until it had a better understanding of how a potential recession and state legislation – mainly the $15 minimum wage and educational funding mandates from the Kirwan Commission – would impact finances. To that end, the Mardela school project was removed from the CIP.
“For the board of education’s request, we continue to fund Beaver Run (replacement) with a proposed $7 million being bonded this year,” he said. “We also proposed to fund the Westside Intermediate roof need. The Mardela High/Middle project, which is an $18.2 million request over four years, was removed.”
But educators, parents and community members argued the funding was desperately needed to address the aging facility.
Parent Michelle Wright said the school was built in 1958 and hadn’t received a renovation since 1980. She added that studies were conducted as early as 2009 to determine the future of the facility.
“Please work together and make Mardela happen,” she said.
Principal Liza Hastings highlighted failing HVAC systems, inadequate security measures and lack of space at the school.
“We all understand that a renovation is absolutely needed if we are to provide our children with the same level of safety and academic experiences that the other schools in Wicomico County are able to provide,” she said.
Hastings added the building environment at Mardela Middle and High has also impacted instruction at the school.
“Our kids deserve better,” she said. “Our community deserves better.”
Culver took time on Tuesday night to apologize for the lack of communication in deciding to remove the school funding from the CIP.
“I owe you more than an apology because I didn’t get out to your area and tell you what we were looking at …,” he said.
While he supported the project, Culver said allocating money to Mardela Middle and High could mean cuts to other areas.
“We don’t know what’s coming down the road,” he said.
Wicomico County Board of Education President Don Fitzgerald, who praised Culver in March for fully funding the board’s requests in fiscal year 2020, said he was now angry with the county executive.
“I know the money is there …,” he said. “You cannot sit there in that chair and say the students of our county are not worth the money.”
Superintendent of Schools Donna Hanlin thanked the community and the county for its support.
“You shouldn’t settle for the status quo in terms of the instruction of our students or the facilities in our county,” she said. “I hope you will listen to everything that has been said this evening and reconsider your position.”