Worcester County Public Schools Faces Tough Decisions

Worcester County Public Schools Faces Tough Decisions
Posted on 06/03/2015


NEWARK (June 2, 2015) – With Worcester County Commissioners voting to fund the school system at the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) level, including health insurance, Worcester County Public Schools will be facing difficult decisions. An MOE budget – the lowest level required by law – will not provide funding to support pay increases achieved from a salary “step” or from a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).

“There is no question that school system and county employees need and deserve pay increases,” said Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson after the June 2 vote by Commissioners. “We were hoping that Commissioners would fund a pay increase to all county employees, but they have not. As a result, we are forced to decide if giving our employees a pay increase warrants internal reductions. Because we believe our employees have earned a pay increase, we will be seriously considering the options. For us, our people come first; they are worth it.”

According to school system leadership, internal reductions would be difficult, since school systems are primarily comprised of people. “With 90 percent of our operating budget directed toward salaries, benefits, and bus contracts,” said Chief Financial Officer Vincent Tolbert, “the choices of where to realize reductions are limited. We have to allocate revenues toward operations and fixed expenditures such as heating, cooling, and electricity; there are no options there. We would likely be forced to look at position reduction.”

Position reduction is not a choice the school system would like to make, according to officials. “Each position that we currently have supports a student’s education,” said Wilson. “In addition, if the school system must reduce employee positions to adequately compensate the workforce, then the school system is not on a sustainable path. Position reduction could only be a temporary practice – a painful and costly one at that.”

Also painful is the diminishing fiduciary support by the school system’s primary funding source: Worcester County government. “County government continues to allocate a smaller percentage of their county resources to the school system’s operating budget,” said Tolbert. He cites that in 2000, the county spent 51 percent of its county resources to support the school system’s operating budget. “In 2015, the Board of Education’s budget represented 44 percent of the county’s overall budget.” Because of the state aid funding formula, 76 percent of Worcester County Public Schools’ budget comes from county government.

The MOE budget approved by County Commissioners on June 2 will necessitate re-negotiations with the Worcester County Teachers Association (WCTA) and the Worcester County Education Support Personnel Association (WCESPA). “We present a budget to County Commissioners that reflects what we need to sustain excellence and to fairly compensate our employees. Our budget proposal has been negotiated with the WCTA and the WCESPA,” explained Wilson. “Since the Commissioners have passed a budget which does not fund our needs, we must go back to the negotiation’s table and reach another agreement.”

The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt an FY 2016 Operating Budget, based on county funding, at their June 16 meeting. “Until then, we will be looking internally to see if there are any options so that we may provide our employees with a pay increase,” said Wilson. “Without county support, we have no choice but to examine if reductions have to be made. I want to emphasize that our employees work hard to educate the children and to provide the education necessary for our students to be successful in their future.”

The Board of Education agrees. “The Board passed a proposed budget that was responsible and attempted to provide a reasonable salary increase to our employees to help them with the rising cost of living and for a job well done,” said Board President Robert Rothermel. “While the Commissioners did not fund our compensation requests, the Board of Education is determined to support our employees this year and into the future.”

Disappointment seems to be the common sentiment. “Not only are we disappointed, but we believe that our communities will be disappointed,” said Rothermel. “At each public input meeting, the majority of speakers said they would accept a tax increase to support an increase in pay for teachers and staff.”

County Commissioners voted on June 2 to increase taxes without supporting a pay increase for county and school system employees.