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Worcester Board of Ed. OKs budget

(Feb. 27, 2015) Salary increases for teachers and health insurance costs are major items on the more than $102 million budget approved by the Worcester County Board of Education last week.

Since snow covered most of the roads last Tuesday, the meeting was held through a conference call and the Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the budget for 2016’s fiscal year.

This year’s proposed budget is $4 million more than the current fiscal year’s budget.

By law in Maryland, counties are required to fund school boards through the “Maintenance of Effort” rule, which requires the counties to contribute the same amount of money per student to their schools each year.

Currently, the cost of each student is $12,134 in Worcester County, said the School Board’s Chief Financial Officer Vince Tolbert.

This year, roughly 76 percent of the budget will come from the county and the rest must be obtained by federal or state grants, Board President Bob Rothermel said.

“Worcester County is considered wealthy because of higher resort and property values,” Rothermel said. “We do not get much money from the state for this reason.”

The state’s school funding formula is set according to a county’s tax base and Worcester’s is substantial because of the thousands of resort properties. Meanwhile, 44 percent of the school system’s children, most of whom come from other areas in the county, receive reduced price meals, Rothermel said.

The proposed new budget includes more than $2.6 million to pay for a salary increase and a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for teachers.

“Ninety percent of the budget goes to people,” Rothermel said. “Salaries are a negotiated arrangement and the downturn of the economy has hardly increased their pay the last couple of years.”

Salaries for Worcester County teachers have slipped from 11th to 16th in the state over the past couple years and teachers have received only a half percent increase in their salary for six consecutive years, according to Tolbert.

In addition, the budget includes $221,000 in funding for salary increases for bus contractors, Tolbert said.

“It is important to recognize our teachers and to remain competitive in the marketplace, including finding fresh college graduates, in addition to retaining our current teachers,” Rothermel said. “It does not end with teachers. Administrative, cafeteria, custodial and people who maintain the school are an integral part in making an educational experience for our kids.”

Other expenditure increases in the budget include an estimated $1.3 million hike in health insurance costs and $304,585 for the local share of teacher pensions. Tolbert said $200,000 will go towards non-recurring student technology expenses.

“What’s happening is we’re becoming more of a digital society and we had the opportunity to replace standard materials this year,” Rothermel said.

The goal is to have every ninth grader receive a laptop, with kindergarteners through eighth grade obtaining a Chrome Book or iPad at the beginning of FY 2016.

County appropriations are expected to account for $82.67 million of the proposed budget, which is $4 million more than the county paid for the current fiscal year. State aid is projected at $18.8 million, a $90,368 increase.

In addition, Tolbert said $400,000 in revenue was repurposed from the current fiscal year’s budget, which will help fund salary increases and digital conversions for students.

The school board approved its budget last week, but the Worcester County Commissioners have the final authority on the spending plan. School board members are expected to meet with county leaders on March 24 for a budget review.

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