School Board Sends $87M Budget To Commissioners
NEWARK - The Worcester County Board of Education on Tuesday night unanimously adopted the school system's proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2008, which comes to around $87.3 million when all sources of revenue are added in, and will submit the document to the County Commissioners for approval next month.
The total proposed budget of $87.3 million includes a requested total county allocation of around $70.7 million from Worcester County with the balance coming from the state in the form of various grants and other aid. The budget approved on Tuesday reflects an increase in funding from the county of about $6.5 million over what was approved last year.
As usual, the County Commissioners will carefully review the school board's proposed budget and not everything in the spending plan will be approved. The review by the commissioners will follow the formal presentation of the budget to the commissioners next month, which is when the rubber will hit the road.
The budget approved on Tuesday follows a lengthy process conducted by the school board including input from parent surveys, careful planning and calculations. School board members were thankful the meat of the process in terms of preparing and approving the budget was behind them, but acknowledged there was much work to be done in terms of convincing the commissioners everything in the spending plan is necessary in what has already been characterized as a tight year.
'It's been a long journey, but we have a long journey still to go,' said Board of Education President Garry Mumford. 'We're going to present this to the commissioners next month, and hopefully, we'll be able to make them believe our budget is their budget. We put the students first and this budget is reasonable and necessary.'
Because of the state's often perverse wealth-based funding formula, which considers Worcester one of the wealthiest counties in the state despite the fact over 30 percent of the students come from families at or below the poverty line, the lion's share of the school board's annual proposed budget comes from local funding through the county commissioners. As a result, Worcester County funds roughly 75 percent of the school's operating budget each year, which is among the highest percentages provided by any of the counties in the state.
School board members are cognizant of the strain the funding formula puts on the county budget, but stand by the hefty spending plan and its proposed increases.
'A sound, responsible budget keeps the school system moving in the right direction, in the direction of keeping kids first,' said Mumford this week. 'We are constantly focused on what we need to do as a school system to ensure that our kids will be successful. At the end of the day, we know that we are only asking for increases that are fiscally prudent because the requests meet the needs of our children.'
'Recruit, hire and retain' quality teachers has long been in mantra for the Worcester County school board and the effort has paid dividends with low class sizes and support programs that have made the local school system one of the best in the state in terms of student performance and success. A big part of that for Worcester County has been the slow, but steady increase in teacher and support staff salaries, which again make up a significant part of the increase in this year's budget.
The proposed 2008 school board budget includes a 5-percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), as well as step and scale adjustments. The total requested increase in staff salaries over last year's approved budget comes to just under $4 million, which is needed to recruit and retain teachers. Despite the proposed increase, Worcester's starting teacher salary would still be ranked 17th out of 24 jurisdictions in Maryland.
'We want to continue to inch forward or hold our ground in teacher and staff salaries,' said Chief Financial Officer Vince Tolbert. 'We don't want to lose any ground.'
The proposed salary package was approved was ratified by the Board of Education on Tuesday just prior to the formal adoption of the proposed budget. The salary package came about as the result of careful negotiation between the Board of Education and the Worcester County Teachers Association (WCTA) and the Worcester County Education Support Personnel Association (WCESPA).
Each year, the teacher's association and the support personnel association negotiate with the school board to arrive at a mutually acceptable salary package and the budget adopted on Tuesday reflects that process. Mumford said the school board has a relationship with the teacher's association unlike that in other jurisdictions.
'We're fortunate in Worcester County because we try to go beyond what is required in the normal negotiation process,' said Mumford. 'We try to have an extended conversation, both formally and informally. We talked about the economy and our cost of living in Worcester County and this agreement reflects that.'
Maintaining low class sizes is a stated goal of the school system and despite relatively stable enrollment figures across the county, the north end schools continue to grow. To that end, the school board is asking for an additional 14 teachers this year, four of which are directed at class sizes in Stephen Decatur High School and Ocean City Elementary. The other 10 positions are requested to meet school system goals and include special education teachers, foreign language teachers, English as a second language teachers, and a variety of other teachers for new and continuing support programs.
Other major items include one-time expenditures in technology, capital projects, and school construction, all with the intent of providing modern, safe and well-maintained schools. All in all, the spending plan for 2008 addresses many of the needs and concerns expressed throughout the complex budget process, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes.
'Our budget requests reflect the goals and initiatives identified by our parents and represent our continued commitment to the success of our students,' he said.Tolbert agreed saying, 'the key to budget development is being fiscally responsible while meeting the needs of our students and staff. We believe our 2008 proposed operating budget does both.'