In the coming months the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future will be getting a lot of attention. Last year the Maryland General Assembly passed this sweeping legislation outlining where public education must go over the next decade. The intentions of the legislation seem sound on the surface, but it comes with tremendous pressure on local school systems that will need to find the dollars to meet the education reform’s suggestions.
In Worcester County, which annually gets among the lowest share of state funding, there are major budget concerns involving this legislation. While the changes come with alterations to the per pupil funding formulas across the state, it’s feared the adaptations outlined could actually hurt Worcester because of its relatively low enrollment compared to other jurisdictions and perceived wealth based on long inadequate evaluations.
There are five general focus areas outlined in the legislation – early childhood education expansion, increasing teacher salaries, a renewed emphasis on college and career readiness by the end of students’ 10th grade year, expanded resources and services to the most vulnerable students and the creation of an oversight board to monitor the legislation’s implementation. The Blueprint for Maryland is one of these state mandates that will place a tremendous burden on local school systems. It’s expected to come with a state funding bump but Worcester County expects the mandate to largely unfunded by the state.
A key component of the package involves teacher salaries. By 2027-28, the minimum salaries for all teachers must be $60,000. In Worcester County, starting teacher salaries depend on education. But, according to the negotiated agreement with the Worcester County Teachers Association for the current fiscal year, first-year teachers graduating from college with a standard Bachelor’s Degree start at $47,795. According to the salary scale, which ranges from step one to step 16 and provisional non-degree to doctorate degree individuals, teacher pay fluctuates greatly, as expected, based on level of education and years of service. Included in the negotiated agreement is a statement the Board of Education is committed to increasing teacher salaries and “the focus will include increased lifetime earnings for all teachers.” The accord refers to “a multi-year effort to fully implement a mutually agreed upon solution.”
The commitment appears to be there on the local front, but the Blueprint from the state sets an ambitious timeline. Using the current first-year teacher salaries figures and the stated goal of $60,000 for first-year teachers within five years, the county will need to increase starting teacher pay by 25% to meet the mandate. This is great for young teachers, but the worry now is at what cost this will come for the taxpayers. This will be an ongoing story in the months to come.
On New Year’s Eve, there will now be fireworks in downtown and uptown Ocean City due to a decision this week by the Mayor and Council. The council voted to spend about $17,000 to return fireworks to Northside Park to ring in the new year and celebrate the official end to Winterfest of Lights.
This seems like a good move for Ocean City as the north-end New Year’s fireworks show was popular for numerous years. It will be interesting to compare the crowd sizes at the two displays. The weather will surely play a factor but seems to me the Northside Park crowd could be far bigger than the downtown beach because Winterfest will be open late and there’s more year-round residents in the north end.
Special events provide easy opportunities to truly reflect and marvel over Berlin’s ongoing renaissance. During the Ice Ice Berlin event on Friday, Nov. 25 and the annual Christmas Parade on Thursday, Dec. 1, town streets, restaurants and stores were packed with thousands of people. Numbers like 10,000 people have been estimated as attending each event. Having been on a parade float last Thursday, I think that’s an accurate number of guests and doesn’t even account for the participants from local schools who were in the parade and those inside establishments.
Though the events were huge draws, Berlin is even a hot small town on regular workdays like Thursday. During a quick run to the bank yesterday, there was nary a parking spot to find anywhere. The secret is certainly out about Berlin, and regional and national media appear to be noticing. Berlin and Ocean City were among eight Maryland sites featured on the Travel Awaits website this week. Last month, another website – onlyinyourstate.com – featured Berlin with photos and a writeup.
The website read, “Christmas towns aren’t just for Hallmark movies. The following Christmas town in Maryland is full of charm, from its horse-drawn carriage rides to its festive events. This little town is known for its close-knit atmosphere, making for a welcoming community full of friendly folks. Feeling holly jolly? Then head to the Town of Berlin, Maryland for some holiday cheer. This town in Maryland’s eastern region is full of charm, with lovely local shops, restaurants, and a welcoming atmosphere. During the holiday season, Berlin transforms into an even more enchanting area with festive decor, including a downtown Christmas tree; the yearly Christmas tree lighting is always a festive time, with holiday-themed ice sculptures; you also won’t want to miss out on the horse-drawn carriage rides, which are a unique way to explore the downtown area; even the Berlin Welcome Center gets in on the action … and inside, you can drop-off letters for Santa. If you happen to visit Berlin after Christmas, stick around for New Year’s Eve. There are two ball drops, one earlier for the kids, and another one later at midnight. How special!”