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School board hears first round of budget requests from parents

(Dec. 5, 2014) With only one or two outliers, representatives from each school in Worcester County enumerated similar goals for the coming budget year at the annual public input session at the Board of Education complex in Newark.

These goals will be taken in tandem with the board’s own recommendations and will eventually be presented to the Worcester County Commissioners for review as they formulate the fiscal 2016 budget in the coming months.

Every parent who spoke to the board mentioned salary increases. Every parent also  mentioned purchasing new technology for the schools.

Pocomoke High School advocates were alone in mentioning afterschool programming, while other popular requests included school supplies and improvements, funding future positions and books.

Step increases, contractual pay raises negotiated based on factors including length of experience and administration evaluation were halted for a three-year period from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2013 according to Worcester County Teachers Association President Beth Shockley-Lynch.

Shockley-Lynch said step increases have resumed, but the teachers have not been compensated for the three-year “dead zone.”

“Teachers can go to other counties and immediately get a pay raise,” she said.

Chief Financial Officer Vince Tolbert said Worcester County’s funding situation is almost unique in the state, with the lion’s share of money coming from Worcester County unlike neighboring Wicomico and Somerset counties.

This funding model is based on a state formula, which takes into account a “wealth per pupil” measure. Based on this formula, according to Tolbert, Worcester County has the most wealth per pupil in the state, largely owing to high property values in Ocean City.

Not taken into account, he continued, are the 44 percent of students coming from poverty.

Worcester County is ranked near the middle of Maryland’s counties by this measure as of October 2013. Worcester County is, according to the Department of Legislative Services 2014 “Overview of Maryland local governments” report, spending about $17,000 per student with the greatest portion coming from the county (70 percent) and least from the state (25 percent).

Tolbert reported that step increases in salary for teachers would cost about $1.03 million, a one-percent cost-of-living adjustment across the board would cost another $600,000 and estimated health care coverage at an admittedly inflated 10 percent at $1.3 million.

As of 2012, one penny on the property tax rate in Worcester County translated into about $1.5 million for the county in revenue. To fund just these salary increases, without any reductions anywhere else, would add two cents to the property tax rates.

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