Wicomico schools seeking 5.85 percent budget hike

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With little or no fanfare, the county’s Board of Education has unveiled a proposed fiscal 2016 budget that increases expenditures by 5.85 percent over the current year, for $10.58 million in additional spending.

If approved with no chances, the school system would spend $191.38 million for the fiscal year.

The school board is asking for $43.11 million from the Wicomico County government, a $2.79 million or 6.73 percent increase over the current year’s allotment.

County education officials are expecting just over $132 million from the state in support of operations and a $12.1 million contribution from the federal government.

Officials don’t like to include the federal number when discussing the budget, because federal monies are directed toward federal initiatives and local educators have almost no discretion on how that money is used.

State funding would increase $4.1 million; federal would rise $2.1 million. The school system also expects it own self-generated revenues to total around $4 million, a $1.57 million increase.

The numbers are by no means final. Several public hearings on the budget are planned; the County Council isn’t expected to announce the county’s appropriation until May 29.

The new budget takes effect July 1.

School board members approved the spending plan on March 10 and the document was submitted to County Executive Bob Culver on March 13.

During the first week of June, schools officials will be reworking the budget, based on recommendations from the executive. That final plan will go before the school board for a final vote.

In an open letter directed to Culver, the County Council and the public, Superintendent John Fredericksen and board President Ron Willey said workforce recruitment and retention made up “the lion’s share” of the requested additional funding.

The pair also pointed out that additional money will be needed to fund negotiated contracts with the system’s four employee bargaining units.

Those negotiations — which the school system regards as confidential — are under way and have to be completed by June.

The figure that seems to generate the most local contention each spring  is the amount the the county gives the Board of Education.

The county’s contribution to school spending was $36.79 million in 2012. It had risen to $40.52 million in 2014, but dropped slightly to $40.38 million this year.

Calculations under the state’s Maintenance of Effort, which use formulas to essentially mandate local contributions to public education, show the count would need to hand over at least $38.07 million for the next year.

In an interview with Salisbury Independent, Fredericksen said “increased mandates and increased inflation” are at the heart of the proposed increases.

“Costs are moving up. There is increased testing and increased costs directly related to instruction,” he said. “Also, inflation is coming back into the economy for everyone.”

Increasingly, the school system’s “Race To The Top” learning initiatives are moving from grants support to system support.

For capital spending, $10.56 million would be on the books for the next fiscal year, including: HVAC renovations for Parkside High School ($4.02 million); plumbing renovations for Beaver Run Elementary $1.61 million; Lighting and mechanical plant renovations at Parkside ($2.9 million); HVAC renovations at Wicomico Middle School ($1.73 million); and a new roof for East Salisbury Elementary ($1.1 million).

Total enrollment is projected at 14,409 students (as a comparison, Cole Field House at the University of Maryland used to hold 14,500 spectators).

James M. Bennett High School is the county’s largest school, with 1,407 students. Westside Intermediate in Quantico is the smallest, with 215 students.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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