Ocean City Today

Schools add safety officer to budget plan

Funding for position taken from existing appropriation
By Brian Gilliland | Apr 05, 2018

(April 6, 2018) In the first of several departmental budget hearings before the Worcester County Commissioners, the Board of Education made its pitch this week for its proposed $108 million budget, which includes funding for a new position to oversee the schools’ safety.

Details were sparse, but Superintendent Lou Taylor said in light of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting in February and the incident at Great Mills High School earlier this month when two students were killed, the position is necessary.

“Instruction can’t happen when students and staff don’t feel safe,” Taylor said.

Chief Financial Officer for the schools Vince Tolbert explained $85,000 in funding was moved from construction projects to fund the position.

The actual request from the school board to the county is $89 million, because $19 million of the total is expected to come from the state.

Taylor listed seven budget priorities for the coming year.

First and second were salaries and health benefits for employees, where Taylor requested a little more than $1.75 million to pay for step increases and a one percent cost-of-living adjustment. The estimated increase for health insurance premiums by Tolbert is five percent, which is just a bit below what the county used when it changed its own employees’ benefits two weeks ago. The cost for the premium increase is about $746,000.

Next, Taylor requested $200,000 this year and next to update textbooks at the elementary school level. If approved, the new books would go to kindergarten and first grade classes in September, with second and third grade following next year.

He also asked for $75,000 to replace band uniforms. Taylor said the schools have begun their own fundraising efforts for new uniforms, but have been unsuccessful so far. Taylor said some of the band uniforms are 30 years old.

Board of education employee pension costs are expected to increase by nearly $38,000 this year, he said.

In addition to staff salary increases, the school board is hoping to get a one percent increase in hourly, mileage and per-vehicle allotment costs, which are a reimbursement for bus owners and include fuel and repair costs. The one percent increase amounts to about $42,000.

Finally, the proposed budget contains a request for about $1 million for a new turf field at Stephen Decatur High School and the replacement of energy management systems at Pocomoke Middle and Stephen Decatur Middle schools. This is not the complete cost for these projects, with further additions in future budgets.

Because Worcester County is considered wealthy by the state, most school funding is local, rather than provided by the state. The school board’s budget accounts for about half of the county’s total budget in a given year.

The commissioners took no action on the presentation, and are likely to revise the schools’ proposals in the coming weeks.

Beth Shockley-Lynch, president of the Worcester County Teacher’s Association, said the proposal was something she could work with, but didn’t expect the county to fully fund the request.

Once the commissioners make their changes, the schools then negotiate with the teachers’ and support staff organizations before the budget is approved.

The schools are funded with county money in 13 areas, and are free to distribute money under the same heading, but cannot move money from one heading to another without commissioner approval.

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