Wicomico schools seek more spending, support

The Wicomico County Board of Education will begin grappling with a $9.2 million gap between requests that total $194.4 million in the FY19 budget and funding that would convert those desires into realities.

“Some schools’ wish lists might not get fulfilled,” school board President Don Fitzgerald told the Salisbury Independent this week.

“We’ll be looking at some things we can do. It doesn’t look like we will get a lot more funding from the state this year than we did last year. If we stay where we are, with only Maintenance of Effort, and we don’t get any more, we will get only $4 more per student,” Fitzgerald said.

A budget will be approved at the March 13 school board meeting and then sent to County Executive Bob Culver by March 15.

Among requests are those from schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin, who is asking for funding to hire and keep qualified teachers, as well as launch programs including universal pre-kindergarten.

Bruce Ford, the school board’s Chief Finance and Operations Officer, offered an overview of the annual budget process.

“Every year that the school system puts together it’s budget, there initially is a budget gap between what our schools’, department heads’ and budget managers’ request as articulated need for the operation of the school system for the coming year.

“That includes instructional programs, teacher’s salaries, operation and maintenance of plant, transportation, administration, student health and pupil services, food services, not to mention new initiatives, programs, and requests from department heads for new equipment, materials, training, staff, etc.,” Ford told the Salisbury Independent.

“The amount of new revenues to be received from the county, the state, and other sources are projected and the difference between the two numbers is the budget gap. Currently, that gap is $9.2 million.

“What happens next is Dr. Hanlin and staff meet with the Board of Education in budget work sessions to review all of the articulated needs from the schools, department heads and budget managers and commences to prioritize those needs. Priorities are established by the Board of Ed based upon recommendations from the Superintendent and staff as well input from the Community,” he said.

“We can only hope that through the legislative process in Annapolis, that additional state aid could be forthcoming, such as perhaps a recognition of a need to provide funding for pre-K, a hot-topic in the legislature this year,” Ford said.

Eventually, the funding gap will be solved through compromise, he said.

Fitzgerald said it upsets him that the county budget has $30 million in the unrestricted category but none of it is being used to fund schools.

He said he has asked the last two County Executives — Rick Pollitt and Bob Culver — how much the county must keep in that category to assure a high bond rating, but he never received an answer.

“I’m not saying education gets it all. We have roads and we have other needs, too,” Fitzgerald said.

On Feb. 6, the school board hosted its first public hearing to receive input from residents about the budget. A video is available at wcboe.org.

There will be a second public hearing for county residents’ input. Comments are also being accepted at comments@wcboe.org, through Messenger or on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wcboe.


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