Ocean City Today

New superintendent brings different outlook to budget

Worcester schools present detailed fiscal 2018 plan to county commissioners
By Brian Gilliland | Mar 30, 2017

(March 31, 2017) While the contention over the dollar amounts didn’t really change, the interactions between the Worcester County Commissioners and the Board of Education Tuesday took on a markedly different tone than in recent years before Lou Taylor took over as superintendent late last year.

“Thank you for being more open,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.

“It’s been a pleasure working with you,” Commissioner Diana Purnell said.

“This has been much easier moving forward,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said.

While the schools are still asking for about half of the county’s total budget — that much hasn’t changed – the way its request was phrased has apparently warmed a previously chilly relationship.

Not that there weren’t pointed questions or concerns. Commissioner Chip Bertino wanted to know just how many buses the schools planned to buy with an increased request of about $52,000, with the answer being eight, and was curious as to the role of the Worcester County Education Foundation in future budgets.

The foundation was formed in late 2014 with the goal of soliciting private donations to fund digital conversion at the schools, providing students with access to computer technology at a ratio of 1:1.

Bertino wanted to know if the foundation had dispersed any of those funds to the schools, and wanted to know if those funds might relieve the county of some of the costs associated with educational hardware and software.

Taylor, who has been associated with the foundation since its formation, said the answer wasn’t simple.

“I’d say it’s yes and no. My hope is that the foundation will help purchase technology for the schools. We’ve gotten some requests to fund projects at individual schools but it’s my hope we focus on the broader needs of the district,” he said.

Taylor said since its inception, the foundation has raised $650,000 and dispersed $38,000 to the schools last year. The foundation’s original funding goal was $1 million.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he was concerned about a story he read concerning a four-year-old who had been left, accidentally, on a school bus in Pocomoke City after falling asleep. The proposed solution was to install alarms on the buses that would force drivers to move to the back of the bus to disable the alert after making their final stops.

While expressing wonderment at reading items in the newspaper instead of being alerted by more traditional means, Mitrecic asked if taxpayers should shoulder the burden of installing these alarms to support trained professional drivers.

Mitrecic was then advised by school personnel that the alarms were standard equipment on buses manufactured after 2012.

The schools’ nearly $105 million total request identified five priorities, with four related to the salaries and benefits for teachers, support staff and bus contractors. The final priority was about $566,000 in capital funds for projects at certain schools.

Taylor had mentioned this money before, but hadn’t yet itemized the improvements he wants to make until the work session this past Tuesday.

The money would go toward replacing the energy management systems at Buckingham Elementary and Snow Hill Middle schools, the chiller at Stephen Decatur Middle School and the purchase plus installation of a shaded courtyard swing at Cedar Chapel Special School.

The county will continue deliberations on the budget until it is formally adopted in early June. The public can have its say on the budget during a public hearing scheduled for May 2 at 7 p.m. at Snow Hill High School.

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