Ocean City Today

School leads budget meeting

By Greg Ellison | May 03, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Stacey Weisner, Delmarva Discovery Center CEO, told the Worcester County Commissioners the organization hopes to reduce its requested funding in subsequent years during a fiscal 2019 budget public hearing at Snow Hill High School on Tuesday.

(May 4, 2018) The Worcester County fiscal 2019 budget public hearing brought out a large contingency of public school system supporters to Snow Hill High School on Tuesday evening to stress the importance of fully funding the education system.

County Administrator Harold Higgins said at this point the budget has a shortfall of more than $8.9 million in revenue compared to requested expenditures.

“Hopefully this will make dollars and sense to … the audience,” he said.

Higgins said general fund revenues for fiscal 2019 are estimated to be $202.6 million, while the requested expenditures total about $211.6 million.

To reconcile the difference, Higgins said a 5.9 cent property tax hike has been proposed, which would increase the county current tax rate of 83.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to 89.4 cents.

The Board of Education is proposing to spend roughly $88.4 million during fiscal 2019, which represents an increase of more than $3 million over the current budget year.

The figure grows further when about $10.4 million for school construction debt is included, jumping to more than $98.8 million, or about 49 percent of the total budget.

Lou Taylor, Worcester County schools superintendent, said the challenge is to create a financially sound budget to meet the needs of all residents.

“We appreciate the opportunity to have an open dialogue about funding a fiscally sound budget that meets the needs of our 6,700 children here in Worcester County,” he said.

Taylor said school budget deliberations typically focus on one aspect.

“The root of every decision we make is this question, is it good for kids?” he said.

Taylor also highlighted challenges facing school leadership.

“We must continue to recruit, hire and retain great teachers, administration and staff,” he said. “We must maintain small class sizes to maintain individual attention.”

Included in the school system budget requests are fair compensation packages for teachers and staff, as well as funding to cover increases in health insurance and pension costs, Taylor said.

“We must continue to partner with our students families and the Worcester County community to make sure the heart of our county, our school system, continues to thrive and flourish,” he said.

Among the parade of parents espousing support for the school budget request was Beth Shockley-Lynch, a science teacher at Snow Hill Elementary School who is the current president of the Worcester County Teacher’s Association.

“If we want great schools … we have to find and keep great teachers,” she said.

Lynch also thanked the county commissioners for their efforts to lobby the state to increase education funding for the county.

“Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions,” she said. “Since the state limits the funds to our county based on an unbalanced funding formula, Worcester receives the lowest amount of aid for any county.”

State funding is calculating using the county’s tax base as compared to its population. Worcester, because of Ocean City, has one of the highest tax bases per capita in the state, and thus receives little financial support from the state, even though the county has high year-round unemployment and deep pockets of poverty.

In addition to school officials, representatives from numerous social service agencies also testified regarding the need for financial backing.

These included: Stacey Weisner, Delmarva Discovery Center CEO; Jack Ferry, executive director of the Worcester County Development Center and Debbie Anderson with Diakonia.

In the meeting’s aftermath, county staff will comb over the budget for additional tweaks to funding, with a series of work session scheduled this month, with final adoption set for June 5.


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