Proposed Education Budget Seeks 3.7% Spending Increase

NEWARK – A proposed budget approved by school system officials this week includes raises for teachers, a variety of new positions and $900,000 for one-time capital projects.

On Tuesday, the Worcester County Board of Education approved a proposed $119 million budget for the coming fiscal year.

“The budget review with our county commissioners is set for March 31,” said Vince Tolbert, the school system’s chief financial officer.

As proposed, $98,479,334, or 82%, of the budget consists of county appropriations. The state is expected to provide slightly more than $20 million, or 17%, of the proposed budget.

Tolbert said the school system was seeking a $3.4 million increase, 3.71%, in its operating budget. The bulk of that, $2.4 million, is related to salary increases — a step increase, a 2% cost-of-living-adjustment for certificated employees and a 2.5% cost-of-living-adjustment for support staff. Bus contractors are also expected to see a 2% increase in the coming year.

“We’re not anticipating any increase in health insurance rates this year which is great,” Tolbert said. “This’ll be the second year in a row with no health insurance increase.”

The proposed budget includes $468,104 for new positions. Tolbert said there were plans to hire two new behavioral health workers as well as some employees for the new Showell Elementary School. He said that since the new facility — which is nearly double the size of the existing school — would be taking in some of the students currently at Berlin Intermediate School, it would need an art teacher, guidance counselor, secretary, part-time nurse and two more custodians.

As far as the $900,000 incorporated into the budget for one-time capital projects, that’s expected to cover schematic and design development fees for an addition at Stephen Decatur Middle School, replacement of HVAC units, central office improvements and a variety of minor improvement at various schools.

“Our one-time capital improvement request includes $267,000 in funding for other projects at several schools,” Tolbert said. “These projects include replacement of the intercom system at Snow Hill Middle School, resurfacing the gym floor at Pocomoke High School, a fence to enclose the early childhood are at Snow Hill Elementary School, increasing the electrical capacity in the welding shop at Worcester Technical High School and minor projects at other schools.”

The budget also includes a $2.5 million county increase to OPEB — other post-employment benefits.

“Last year the county commissioners increased the income tax to fund OPEB liability for both the county and board of education employees,” Tolbert said.

The county put $2.5 million in the budget for OPEB last year and are expected to do the same this year. Tolbert said that ensured health insurance for retirees would continue to be covered.

“When one of our employees retires that liability for health insurance continues on as long as the employee lives,” Tolbert said. “That liability is huge.”

The board will review the proposed budget with the Worcester County Commissioners March 31. The county is set to adopt a budget June 2.

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.