Culver wants new look at West Salisbury Elementary plan

The following is a letter to the public by County Executive Bob Culver. — Editor.

After the discussion that took place during the public comment portion of the Wicomico County Council meeting last Tuesday (Dec. 2) regarding removal of the West Salisbury Elementary School project from the bond issue, I feel it is important to correct misinformation that was brought forward.

The impression has been given — and is passionately believed by some — that the county government has deferred action on the replacement or upgrade of West Salisbury for many years.

Having served on the County Council the past four years, I was troubled by the assertion, since I did not recall any such deferral on the part of the county executive or the council.

Nonetheless, having heard testimony from the public and members of the Board of Education that this had gone on “for years,” I immediately researched Capital Improvement Plan requests from the school board regarding West Salisbury for the past six years.

What I learned about WSE when reviewing the school board’s Top 20 priority lists:

•2009: West Salisbury not included

•2010: West Salisbury not included

•2011: West Salisbury not included

•2012: West Salisbury No. 12 priority — $95,000 for feasibility study

•2013: West Salisbury not included

•2014: West Salisbury No. 2 priority — $200,000 for initial architecture and engineering

•2015: West Salisbury No. 8 priority — $24,000 for HVAC study

•2016: West Salisbury No. 2 priority — $6.5 million total replacement, first phase of a total $41.9 million project

Interestingly, while the county funded the school board’s $24,000 request in fiscal year 2015, the state of Maryland rejected the board’s request for its associated share.

I then also reviewed the Nov. 18 letter from David R. Lever, executive director of the Maryland Public School Construction Program, wherein the state indicated it was not prepared to propose funding the request, citing outstanding issues and questions that needed to be resolved.

That history, coupled with my discussion with Gov.-elect Larry Hogan regarding the availability of state funding going forward, caused me to come to the conclusion that a fiscally responsible course of action was to pause on committing funding until such times as further facts and developments unfold.

It is important for the public to understand that the capital improvement plan is a critically important multi-year planning document.

The county executive and council, in their deliberations regarding appropriation of limited funding to cover many needs across the county, rely upon departments to have a very clear and consistent forward planning vision.

It is difficult for me to understand why a school that had not been considered a significant priority until 2014 has reached a point two years later where renovations and improvements cannot be considered and a complete tear-down and replacement is deemed necessary.

I believe much of the testimony heard at the council meeting misled the public regarding the county government’s actions and deflected any responsibility away from the school board for the deteriorating condition of the school, which now may necessitate a complete school replacement.

The administration of the Board of Education, as well as appointed members of the board both past and present have had 50 years to monitor West Salisbury Elementary and provide needed maintenance and upgrades.

At a minimum, taxpayers have a right to expect their tax dollars are spent on proper maintenance of our schools. The school board will argue that there isn’t enough money to go around. To their point, when it comes to spending it is all about priorities.

This begs the question: Why has it taken almost 50 years for the school board to address the needs of WSE in a significant way?

I understand and appreciate the outrage of WSE supporters. As I stated at the council meeting, I visited the school just days before being sworn into office. Please don’t mistake a postponement of funding as a lack of concern or understanding.

I reiterate my promise to have a skilled team evaluate the current condition of West Salisbury Elementary and to chart an appropriate course of action.

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