Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – January 12, 2024

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – January 12, 2024

In 2024, it appears there will be two Jeep events in Ocean City – Jeep Fest and Jeep Week. More specific plans for Ocean City Jeep Week, tentatively scheduled for May 9-12, and the associated Jeep Jam in Pittsville are expected to be presented to the Ocean City Mayor and Council soon. In fact, the separate event – led by the Croppers of Berlin who brought the Jeep craze to the area a couple decades ago – has “added a third partner to the mix, promising to make these events bigger and better than ever before,” according to a Facebook post on the Ocean City Jeep Week page.

Up for discussion this week was the Ocean City Jeep Fest event. It’s confusing for the public, as is the case with Delmarva Bike Week and OC BikeFest events because of the different organizers involved. The bottom line is there will be a spring Jeep event and a late summer Jeep event, which was approved this week by the Ocean City Mayor and Council. The late summer event is the Ocean City Jeep Fest event, organized by Brad Hoffman, who has been involved in the local Jeep events for years.

Though there was no mention at this week’s meeting, the Jeep Fest event on Aug. 22-25 will take place the same weekend as the OC Air Show. There is an obvious marketing opportunity presented with a “Jets and Jeeps” weekend in Ocean City.

Officially or indirectly, the Worcester County Board of Education is under the impression the County Commissioners will be funding the school system at the Maintenance of Effort level again in the next budget. MOE means the schools will receive the same amount of funding per student as last year. These conversations have not been had publicly but perhaps talks have been had between county and school officials resulting in the assumption. It does not appear to be scare tactics on the part of the school system but more of a rally cry to supporters for help in the weeks ahead.

A budget work session was held in Newark this week for the school system, and some big numbers dominated the discussion. If the county approves MOE level funding, the school system will see a $500,000 cut in the county funding allocation. The biggest concern moving ahead is personnel, of which about 87% of the school system’s budget represents. Add in bus drivers and people account for 94% of the school system budget, it was reported this week.

As a result of last year’s drama, the school system renegotiated teacher salary increases, resulting in some teachers losing take-home pay money when the health insurance increases were calculated. This year the school system focus seems to be on retaining teachers and getting the compensation on track for what the Blueprint for Maryland mandates – starting teacher salary to be $60,000 within three years (county currently at $52,000). The financial folks at the Board of Education say it will take a 6% COLA in each of the next three years to hit that minimum. At the current level of MOE, it was stated this week a salary step and no COLA for staff would cause a $5 million shortfall. A step and a 2% COLA would lead to a $6.7 million deficit, while a step and a 4% COLA would increase it to $8.5 million. A step and a 6% COLA would result in a shortfall of $10.3 million. It was stated by Superintendent Lou Taylor a step and a 6% COLA would lead to 100 county teacher positions needing to be cut, resulting in numerous comments on the Worcester United Facebook page.

Teacher Mary Hathaway took her concerns with the teacher compensation and MOE funding to County Commission President Chip Bertino this week through his Facebook page, specifically a post he made after Decatur on the state football crown. Hathaway and Bertino responded to each other on the thread.

Hathaway wrote, “Commissioner Bertino you seem to support our schools when it comes to winning football teams, will you also support them by adequately funding their budget? The students of Worcester County Public Schools deserve better than MOE funding … In a time where inflation is sky rocketing, all operating costs are going up, and insurance rates are projected to rise it is unreasonable to assume the county can “reimagine” their budget to accommodate these costs without additional funds. Additionally, as recent news reports have indicated the county ended last year with a very large surplus and are going to receive very large sums from property taxes assessments. My question still remains, has your opinion about MOE funding changed for this year’s budget when it is clear that you have been provided a line item budget and have the revenue to full fund the BOE’s budget.”

Bertino responded in part, “… Worcester County taxpayers shoulder more of the per student cost than any other county taxpayer on the Eastern Shore: $15,664 or 80.5% … When all school system county allocations are included (operating budget, debt service, retirement benefits and assigned funds), Worcester County taxpayers are shouldering a cost of $20,293 … During the most recent budgeting process, it was learned that the Board of Education does not have a budget process that can provide detailed financial information for such things as cost of operations and historical expense data. This makes it very difficult for the Board of Education to measure and manage a total budget in excess of $125 million. It makes it more difficult for County government to allocate additional funding when there is no support documentation for the millions of dollars already being allocated… The BOE has said it would provide a detailed budget for the coming FY 2025 budget discussions. This will go a long way to providing the transparency we should all expect as taxpayers.”

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.