Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – September 15, 2023

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – September 15, 2023

The Worcester County Board of Education’s full response to the Worcester County Commissioners’ letters last week seeking more details on budget practices and specifics was received yesterday. A more detailed story will be coming next week as it was emailed too close to deadline.

In the written response to the Worcester County Commissioners, Board of Education President Todd Ferrante maintained a professional and courteous tone. The commissioners’ letter to the school board adopted the same business-like stance. Nonetheless, it would be disingenuous of me to report the congenial rapport expressed in writing is the reality of the situation. Hard feelings exist between most of the commissioners and school system officials, and there are glimpses of umbrage throughout both bodies’ letters.

In his cover letter of the 14-page response, Ferrante wrote, “We appreciate your interest in the fiscal practices of the school system, and we are glad that the information provided to you and your staff has been beneficial to your collective understanding. … The management of school system finances varies greatly from that of county or local government, just as the oversight of said finances lies with the Board of Education. Unlike county or local government, school finance norms, which include budgeting to category and subcategory – not line item, are designed to accommodate the flexibility necessary to address fluctuating student enrollment, student support requirements, and aging physical plant. Despite these uncertainties, Worcester County Public Schools’ finances and fiscal practices, which are audited annually – including frequent specialized audits for specific programming and grant funded programs, are in compliance with state and federal regulations. Again, we appreciate the opportunity to not only share insight into our practices, but to learn county norms that can inform our practices moving forward.”

All the county’s questions were answered throughout the extensive document. In most cases, the explanations were boiler plate and straightforward. There were a couple instances when the chippy questions were met with some chippy responses. For example, the county’s letter questioned the school board’s meal allowance and policy, pointing out 18 charges to the same Berlin restaurant and seeking to review multiple reimbursements to staff. The letter’s response read in part, “In reviewing these receipts, many are meetings between the Superintendent and staff with County Commissioners. It has come to our attention that each Commissioner is provided with a $3,000 annual allotment for this purpose. Moving forward, we will investigate adopting a similar expense practice with school system leadership, and we believe that given past practice, it will likely fall below the existing county allotment. Additionally, many of the other receipts are meal allowances for out of county and state travel for meetings.”

More to come on this next week.

The desires among many for new grocery store options boiled over this week once a story was published about a Giant grocery store being an anchor tenant in the new Coastal Square Shopping Center on the southside of Route 50 near the Route 589 intersection.

A sample of comments follows here. One resident wrote, “No! Another step towards this area losing all of its charm. Soon we are going to look like Sussex County or even Long Island. I’ve been so curious about how if people moving here want it to be exactly like where they came from…why did they come? In the end, I guess these projects are just about money. I am probably the only one that somehow liked the fact that in the “old days” we had to go to Salisbury for almost everything. I loved our small town.” Another person wrote, “Well we have been teased with this before. Lets see it happen!” Another wrote, “I love a Giant grocery store! Best stuff ever.” Another wrote,  “More pollution, more traffic and congestion … it “really” needed?” Another wrote, “I would much rather have a Whole Foods, Sprouts or something along those lines. Not a lot of options around here for people with allergies.” A citizen wrote, “Can’t even occupy the shopping centers on route 50 now so let’s create another one. Where’s the logic?” Another wrote, “I thought part of the agreement allowing Ahold to merge Giant and Food Lion was they couldn’t compete with themselves in the same market like this. They’d be 5 minutes away from the Berlin Food Lion. This is really weird.” Another citizens said, “The traffic nightmare will only get worse. Guess locals will have to shop at the crack of dawn. How about a grocery store between Snow Hill and Pocomoke? Sure would be nice to have options at our end.” Another wrote, “Or, we could just leave it as farmland and use one of the other 6 grocery stores nearby. There’s an idea maybe no one has considered.”

While the social media comments were entertaining to read, I am specifically interested to see how the Routes 50 and 589 intersection is impacted by the 120,000-square-foot shopping center (the Giant will encompass 66,000 square feet of the center). A site plan image shows some significant changes to traffic along the south side of Route 50 leading to and from the new shopping center, including a traffic circle and multiple lanes to and from the highway.

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.