Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – August 11, 2023

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – August 11, 2023

With the return to school nearing, negotiations continue between the county school system and teachers on a new contract. The original agreement included a step increase and a 4% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for teachers and a 4.5% COLA for support staff. The deal was dropped after the County Commissioners did not meet the school system’s budget request and instead funded a Maintenance of Effort budget, which is the lowest level allowed by law and provides funding at the same per-pupil dollar amount as the most recent year.

Over the summer, negotiations were restarted between the school system and the Worcester County Teachers Association. The new contract that has tentative approval from leaders on both sides calls for the following: one step and a longevity step to those eligible; .39% COLA due July 1 (for a total single-year increase of 1.14% based on a .75% increase instituted in April); and a one-time bonus of $2,250 paid out evenly in two installments on Oct. 10 and Dec. 15.

The bonus concept is clearly an attempt to make the best out of a tough situation, but it’s certain the new agreement will not be celebrated by county teachers. Stephen Decatur High teacher Megan Seyler addressed the possibility of only one step being approved at last month’s Board of Education meeting. Though there was a small COLA and the bonus added since her comments, Seyler said, “If only a step is granted, I’m slated to make $65,850. If I was teaching in Wicomico County, I would make $76,507. If I was a veteran teacher in Wicomico, I would have received a $2,500 retention bonus from ESSER. If Worcester County had followed suit and given their teachers retention bonuses, the county commissioners would not be able to hold this grant over our heads.”

Barring a major change in direction, the agreement is expected to be finalized and signed at next week’s Worcester County Board of Education meeting.

The prospects appeared dim this week for the first-ever Ocean City Balloon Festival, planned for Aug. 25-27 on the Seaside Cristian school grounds in West Ocean City. Though tickets are being sold – approximately 400 or so as of now for the three-day event – some major concerns surfaced at a county meeting this week.

Based on the meeting between county officials, Maryland State Police, State Highway Administration and festival organizers, it appears the required permits have not been received or even applied for at this time. MSP Lt Earl Starner said, “I’m not saying it’s impossible but there is a process. You’re going to impact traffic in a negative way therefore you need an approved permit.” Other officials raised concerns about public safety access at the large-scale event if it’s needed.

Organizers did not seem prepared at this week’s meeting to address the concerns raised by officials, including crowd control plans, security over alcohol and live music, bus shuttle plan specifics and information about the propane tanks that will be used to keep the hot air balloons upright. An event organizer estimated about 400 tickets had been sold so far online but estimated most of the event tickets will be purchased the weekend of the event, which will feature tethered hot air balloons that will fly about 50 feet above the ground, as well as vendors, tents and stages.

The Oceans Calling Festival is under two months away and some new information was shared this week.

First was the festival layout map, which is similar to last year’s plan with the exception of the Boardwalk from essentially the Inlet to 1st Street being included in the festival grounds this year. There will be three stages – the headliner stage (the Sea Bright Stage) will be located on the beach in front of N. Division Street with the other two stages located south of the pier. The Rockville Stage will be set up closest to the Inlet jetty like last year, while the Carousel Stage will be closer to the Boardwalk in the Inlet parking lot. Spread out throughout the festival grounds will be food options, bars, restrooms and numerous other vendors. The festival will be held noon-11 p.m. Sept. 29-Oct. 1. Ticket holders will be permitted to leave and reenter prior to 7 p.m. each day, according to the event website.

The festival’s transportation information was released this week as well. An email from the festival addressed what’s on the minds of many, saying, “We highly recommend you plan to walk, bike, or use public transportation because limited parking, congestion, and alternate traffic patterns will make it difficult to get to the southern end of Ocean City using a car or Ride Share.” The transportation plan outlines parking options, such as the park-and-ride in West Ocean City and municipal lots throughout the resort with shuttle service offered; the municipal bus shuttle changes catered to this event; a general drop/pickup location for Ride Share and taxi on 4th Street; and bike parking on the beach near the festival entrance.

Though I am a live music junkie and would attend even if I were not a member of the media, it’s really going to be fascinating to see how 50,000 people move out of the festival grounds at one time. It seems clear some patience will need to be packed by attendees, but it’s exciting, nonetheless.

About The Author: Steven Green

Alternative Text

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.