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Worcester board of ed approves FY 25 budget with some cuts, reduced staff raises

In a 4-1 vote, the Worcester County Board of Education recently adopted a revised budget for the upcoming fiscal year that provides raises for teachers and support personnel following the county commissioners’ vote to reduce funding levels.

WTHS-first day

Students are pictured in a classroom at Worcester Technical High School on the first day of the 2023-24 academic year.
Photo courtesy Worcester County Public Schools

By Stewart Dobson, Editor

In a 4-1 vote, the Worcester County Board of Education adopted a revised budget for the upcoming fiscal year that provides raises for teachers and support personnel following the county commissioners’ reduced funding level announced earlier this month. On June 18, the commissioners approved the final funding plan.

On June 4, the county approved a budget of $105.4 million for the county’s public schools, with close to $1.6 million of that total earmarked for “Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB)” meaning it cannot be used to pay any other expenses, including salaries.

School officials said the reduced funding coupled with restrictions for early childhood allocations, as stipulated by the state’s public education overhaul known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, left the board $2.7 million short of the $107 million it originally requested.

To address the shortfall, the board entered renegotiations with the Worcester County Teacher Association (WCTA) and Worcester County Educational Support Professional Association (WCESPA) last week. 

With an eye on wrapping up that business by the end of the school year on June 13, the board reached agreements that gave teachers a salary step and a 5% cost-of-living adjustment, while awarding support personnel a step and a 5.5% cost-of-living adjustment. 

Bus contractors will also receive an increase equivalent to a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, board officials said in a statement issued last week.

“We are at a tipping point in Worcester County,” Board of Education President Todd Ferrante said in the statement. “Not only are we facing a mandated starting teacher salary of $60,000 as part of the Blueprint, but we are also beginning to lose high quality teachers and staff to neighboring counties. We must compensate our employees to show them how much they are valued, but also to entice potential recruits to make Worcester their chosen place to begin or elevate their career.”

With the negotiated reduction in the salary package, the board also trimmed the budget to close the funding gap. The reductions include:

• No restoration of the cuts made in FY24 —Materials of instruction and field trip allotments will remain funded at 50%, elimination of locally funded afterschool and summer programs, including transportation ($315,000), elimination of outdoor graduation ceremonies ($80,000), instructional support supplies and administrative supplies will remain at 75%, and the elimination of the opening kick-off event for faculty and staff

• The elimination of 18 positions — six contractual in the central office, 12 school-based appointed

• The elimination of extracurricular activities at the elementary and middle school level

• A reduction of coaching staff across all high school athletic programs

• Program and material reductions including Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports Testing and Assessment, Textbooks and Supplies, and Arts Immersion.

• Transportation reductions — elimination of a north end bus route and reduction of Worcester Technical High School runs to the comprehensive high schools.

Along with the announced reductions, four positions previously funded through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding will no longer be effective July 1.

“To make any cuts or reductions like this is painful,” Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor said in the release. “Each year, we build a budget that includes what we believe is necessary for the continued success of our schools, and each of today’s announced reductions undermine that success.”

“Our county cannot continue down this path of underfunding public education; this trend will decimate our schools,” Ferrante added. “It is time that our elected officials align their actions with their words. To say you support education – our teachers, staff, and bus drivers – your voting record should reflect that, and if it doesn’t, your constituents should know that, too.”

Voting in favor of the motion were board members Jon Andes, Ferrante, Elena McComas, and Donald Smack. Board member Katie Addis was the lone opposition vote. Commissioners Bill Buchanan and Bill Gordy were absent from the meeting. 

In defending her opposition, Addis said she offered a list of cuts including selling 19 supervisor take-home vehicles for a projected $200,000 assuming they would be sold at half the purchase price. Addis also requested top administrative officials making over $100,000 not take the same COLA increase for a savings of about $360,000. 

“Personally, I’m struggling with the cuts of the athletic reductions, the extracurricular reductions for elementary and middle school. Those two things alone equally $126,000 I feel we can find in different places. I’m struggling with a lot of the things that are a part of this cut process,” Addis said.

Following the vote, school system leadership submitted the board’s revised fiscal 2025 budget to the commissioners, who formally accepted it June 18 by a 6-0 vote. 

This story appears in the June 27, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.