Ocean City Today

Parents submit school spending priorities

Requests and survey results nearly identical as previous years’ proposals at meeting
By Brian Gilliland | Dec 07, 2017

(Dec. 8, 2017) Administrators, parents, and Worcester County Board of Education employees gathered Tuesday night for the schools’ first foray into the fiscal year 2019 budget.

School administrators were there largely to listen, while Board of Education officers Vince Tolbert, chief financial officer, and Carrie Sterrs, public relations coordinator, delivered an overview of the school budgeting process and the results of the annual parents’ survey.

Local schools get most of their funding from the Worcester County Commissioners, who spend more than half of the county’s annual budget on the schools. This year’s county budget was almost $200 million, with more than $100 million of that devoted to education in Worcester County.

Tolbert said 85 percent of the schools’ unrestricted operating budget goes toward salaries for employees.

Nonetheless, every parent representative from the county’s schools mentioned increasing teacher pay as one of their top priorities for the coming school year.

“I wholeheartedly agree that the priority for this and every budget is to attract and retain high quality teachers,” Superintendent Lou Taylor said.

Taylor said it is important that Worcester teacher salaries remain competitive with what is offered in other areas.

Tolbert explained that the cost of a step increase, where teachers earn a negotiated increase each year according to the contract signed by the board and the teachers’ association each year, would be about $1.07 million in next year’s budget. A cost-of-living adjustment of one percent for employees outside the step system would cost about $626,000. Tolbert projected an increase of health care costs of 5 percent next year, which would cost about $746,000.

Sterrs said about 42 percent of county households responded to the board’s annual parent survey, which is about the same as last year. Seven percent more respondents used mobile devices rather than other means to access the survey this year over last year, she said.

Most of the programs the schools asked about had a greater than 90 percent favorability rating, with two concerns being the depth of the world language programs, especially at the elementary and middle school level, and afterschool programs.

With very few outliers, nearly all of the parent groups representing the schools budget priorities wanted to maintain low teacher-to-student ratios and small class sizes, increases in pay for teachers and improved classroom technology. Outside of those three priorities, the most common suggestions were for school-specific positions that had been eliminated during previous budget cycles.

“We assure you we value your input and give all due credit to your comments,” William Gordy, board president, said.

Gordy said he would be working closely with the county commissioners during the next few months to develop the schools’ budget proposal, to ensure the document was something that the commissioners were amenable to, based on the experience the board had a few years ago when the commissioners were not happy with the board’s request.

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