Future Cost Concerns Lead To County Not Accepting Pre-K3 Grant

SNOW HILL – County officials opted not to accept a grant to expand prekindergarten in Worcester County.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday did not offer concurrence to the school system on plans to accept a Pre-K expansion grant. While the grant would have funded expanded Pre-K3 for one year, costs going forward would have been worked into the school system’s operating budget.

“We do need to be working together on these sorts of things, so taxpayers know exactly where their dollars are going,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.

Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young on Tuesday presented the commissioners with a request for concurrence regarding a Pre-K3 expansion grant. The grant would have added an additional Pre-K3 classroom at Buckingham Elementary School, Pocomoke Elementary School and Snow Hill Elementary. The grant would provide salaries for seven staff members as well as furniture, supplies, curriculum and technology needed for the first year.

“After the first year of this Pre-K expansion grant the program would require approximately a $600,000 increase to the board’s operating budget to continue these classrooms,” Young said.

Bertino asked if the county had received information regarding ESSR grants the school system had accepted.

“I don’t know what we’re obligated to pay as far as grant committals,” he said.

Young said the county had received ESSR information among the more than 1,000 pages of financial detail recently provided by the school system but that it was still being reviewed by staff.

None of the commissioners made a motion to support the board’s acceptance of the grant. At the end of the meeting, Bertino said this was the first time he could remember that the school system shared information like that regarding a grant they were considering. He said speaking for himself, he hadn’t supported the request because he didn’t know what other grant funded program costs would have to be absorbed by the school system’s operating budget.

“The opportunity to work with the board of education on these grants is helpful and productive and I don’t want it to be missed that in fact this was the first time the board of education provided us with this information,” he said. “I want to thank them for that, but we do need to know exactly what we’re on the hook for moving forward because as was stated once that grant goes away it would be additional $600,000 that would be part of the board of education’s budget.”

At Tuesday’s meeting the commissioners also voted to approve the updated budget category amounts provided by the board of education in response to the maintenance of effort budget approved for the coming fiscal year. The school board met last week to adjust the budget to address the fact that the county approved maintenance of effort funding of $100 million, which is about $4.5 million less than the school system requested. That meeting came just days after the school sytem provided the county with more than 1,000 pages of financial information sought through a Public Information Act request.

Commissioner Caryn Abbott said she appreciated the information but that staff members were still reviewing it. She said she was hopeful that level of detail could be provided in the future.

“What we have asked this year is not political but prudent,” she said. “We answer to all the taxpayers in Worcester County.”

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.