Bob Culver: Council should leave Wor-Wic program alone

I’m always amazed when people call for change and yet keep doing the same thing expecting different results. When I ran for County Executive one of my major topics was jobs. The citizens said that they want not only more jobs, but better jobs in Wicomico County. While it is true that we lost many jobs during the recession, we also lost the companies that offered those jobs. While many of those who lost their jobs have remained in the area, the companies that were forced to close have never returned to the county. We need to realize that the companies that survived are those that were ahead of the times when the recession hit and were more technology driven.

When I would go out to talk to companies about locating to Wicomico County, the single-most important theme that their Chief Executive Officer’s spoke of was an increased need for workforce training in college level courses, especially in technical fields. They emphasized the need for more education and skill sets. With that, I worked along with Dr. Ray Hoy of Wor-Wic Community College to help find a solution to these problems. We came up with the Wicomico Economic Scholarship Fund which we patterned after the very successful program in Garrett County which is now over 10 years old. This fund would allow families challenged by economic times to give hope to their children for a better life and an education beyond high school. We used the requirement of successful programs in other counties, such as income restrictions, grade point average, and county residency. You see, this would help give Wicomico County a better educated and trained workforce.  This would also attract out of town businesses to come and establish a home in Wicomico County.

After extensive discussions the County Council approved the program legislatively. After the fact the County Council then began to say that the program was too generous on the income that a family was allowed to make and still qualify. They actually demanded money be returned after posing for photo ops when the legislatively approved check was presented to the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore. Now they want to change parts of the grant program whenever they decide to do so and without any public input or input from my office.  Council now wants to change the grade point average for not only the acceptance into the program but also the grade point average students must maintain. The state of Maryland requires a 2.0 grade point average, or as most of us know, an average student grade to graduate from high school and to stay in a state university. The council wants to increase the requirement to a 2.5 grade point average, which would further limit the number of people who can qualify and remain in the program. This change will likely disqualify more than a third of Wicomico County high school students. Basically this is just another step to shut down the scholarship fund.

You can’t have things both ways. The members of council seem to communicate to one group that the program is a good thing and we need it, then turn to the next group and tell them they plan to rein in the requirements and make it tougher. In order for the program to succeed it must have time to work and not be changed after only three semesters.

To date, over 300 hundred students have come to Wor-Wic because of the scholarship fund and other funding opportunities available to them. Wicomico County has only paid for 30 of these individuals. Let me repeat myself, we have over 300 Wicomico County school system graduates who are now earning college degrees and will contribute to society and it has only cost taxpayers $39,000. Council’s priorities seem to be counter to the wishes of the majority of our citizens and only serve to undermine any sense of credibility and continuity. Rather than taking the advice of educational experts like Dr. Hoy, a professional who is highly regarded across the state, they have taken it upon themselves to tinker with and ultimately undermine a program that has been very successful elsewhere and in doing so deprive those less fortunate than themselves of the opportunities this program provides.

Bob Culver is County Executive for Wicomico County.


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