Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – June 30, 2023

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – June 30, 2023

It has been a strange summer season so far. June has been weird on most fronts, but especially on the weather and its impact on reduced crowds on the weekends.

There also appear to be some trends associated with the economy and post-pandemic travel corrections worthy of monitoring as the summer continues. Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones touched on the latter travel subject this week, saying, “We fared so well in 2021 and 2022 as cruise and air industries suffered greatly; travel to cities also slowed in that time but we excelled due to outdoor options. Travel via air, cruise and city exploring is taking some of that share now and we’ve leveled off.  In general, Expedia reported that travel demand is strong and spending in this category has outpaced others as folks are seeking adventure.”

The only good news associated with June was the lack of major crime incidents. Though everything is relative when it comes to measuring crime levels, a weekly review of all the arrests and calls for service confirm a tame month on the police beat front. There were the typical weapons and assault arrests commonplace when Ocean City is overtaken with late-teens and early-20s types, but for the most part it was an uneventful senior week season.

There were two significant pieces of news involving land in and around Berlin this week.

First, it’s taken three years to get the deal done, but the state’s purchase of the former Bay Club golf course property and neighboring farm is now official. Located west of Berlin on Libertytown Road, the two parcels total 672 acres and were purchased for about $4 million through Maryland’s Program Open Space. At one point, back in 2017, the seller, Carl M. Freeman Companies, was considering a 434-site camping and RV resort for the property. Concerns about campers rolling through town quickly led to the concept being shelved, and the golf course closed for good in 2019, “due to increasing costs and decreasing revenues,” according to a Freeman press release at the time. As to what this week’s preservation through Program Open Space actually means, there seem to be several possibilities, but development will now never be one of them. Restorations possibilities of the property include walking trails, pollinator habitat, watershed restoration projects and tree plantings. Public access to the property will continue to be restricted for the foreseeable future.

Secondly, the Maryland Board of Public Works last week approved the county’s $1.26 million request to use Program Open Space funds to purchase the 12-acre Berlin Little League fields. Owned by the Berlin Lions Club, the purchase ensures the future of the baseball fields and will allow the county to upgrade the playing surfaces and add new amenities. The county could in the future purchase another six acres nearby owned by the Lions Club that is currently being farmed. This seems like a positive purchase for all involved.

There continue to be reverberations throughout the community over Worcester County school system funding decisions made as a result of the County Commissioners keeping funding flat for public schools. Most of what I heard about this week involved the school system’s decision to cut outdoor graduation ceremonies and summer academy services next year. These moves were a result of the commissioners’ funding restrictions.

Outdoor graduations came about due to the pandemic and have been cheered by most graduates and their families. Word the school system was cutting the outdoor graduations with plans to return in Stephen Decatur’s case to the convention center in Ocean City have been jeered. In fact, some Decatur families appear unwilling to accept the change and are reportedly looking to raise the funds throughout a grassroots campaign to ensure the football stadium continues to be the site as it has for the last three years. Driven by passion for their kids, I am sure this will be a successful effort.

On the flipside is the matter of summer academy. For most students, the concept of summer school is understandably frowned upon. For special needs kids and other disadvantaged youth, it’s a critical service. As I took my kid each morning to summer academy at Stephen Decatur Middle School, I rued the thought of next summer without it. For some kids in our community, summer academy is the opportunity to stay fresh on their studies while also getting the meals they need to continue growing. It’s an unpleasant topic to discuss but it’s also the reality for some households. Additionally, and this hits home to me with my 13-year-old son who has non-verbal Autism, summer academy is critical for special needs learners. The classroom time provides a sense of continuity that’s needed to provide a foundation of success for the next school year. These learners need familiarity and routine for success. Allowing the students the opportunity to stay familiar with their surroundings – or in some cases being introduced to their new school buildings and teachers – is important for the next school year. For my son, 10 weeks without any school will have massive consequences next year, especially as it will be the summer before he enters high school. It’s a major disappointment this service was cut.

These questionable funding decisions made at the county level and then the equally problematic cuts that followed by the school system are going to impact families significantly. It may be the summer, but these issues continue to get attention.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.