A group of Worcester County elected officials, members of the board of education and Worcester County school employees supported Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino, seated sec- ond from left, when he testified to the Kirwan Commission during a public hearing on Tues- day, Nov. 12 in Annapolis.

Commissioner Bertino testifies that Worcester’s funding formula unequal

(Nov. 15, 2019) Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino highlighted the unfair funding formula during the public hearing for the Kirwan Commission on Tuesday evening in Annapolis. 

Several local government and education officials attended the hearing on Nov. 12, including county schools Superintendent Lou Taylor, Diana Purnell, president of the Worcester County Commissioners, Eric Cropper, vice president of the Worcester County Board of Education, and Beth Shockley-Lynch, president of the Worcester County Teachers Association and science teacher for Snow Hill Elementary School. The full Kirwan Commission had a separate meeting during the day.

The Kirwan Commission, formally known as the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, proposes revamping Maryland’s public education and the distribution of funds to pay for it. The multi-million-dollar recommendations are free full-day preschool for 3-and-4-year-olds living at 300 percent below the property level, higher salaries for teachers, regulated college and career readiness standards, vocational education and allocated funding for counties on a sliding scale. 

While Worcester County elected officials and public education staff have generally agreed with the goals of the Kirwan Commission, they have voiced outrage at what they see as an unfair funding formula that was released by the Kirwan Commission on Oct. 15. They have also want to maintain local control over public school regulations, as officials believe they are already providing great education standards without state mandates. 

“The Kirwan recommendations, if adopted in their current form, would deepen the disparity between what is fair and what is not,” Bertino said during the public hearing. 

The recommendations state that Worcester County should provide an additional $5.3 million for its schools for 2030. That would be added to a state contribution of $7 million for a combined $12.3 million increase in 2030 school spending. In contrast, neighboring Wicomico County would receive an additional $73.8 million from the state, while the local contribution will grow by $9.4 million. 

“The unfortunate reality is that when it comes to education allocations by the state, Worcester County has been systemically and historically penalized for the very thing that has made us effective – the positive, engaged and results-oriented relationship among those vested with the responsibility to educate the children of our county,” Bertino said during the public hearing. 

The funding formula workgroup based their recommendations off property tax base and income tax totals. However, Worcester County officials disagree with that reasoning because Worcester County has the highest tax base, yet still has 40 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch. The funding will be phased in over 10 years, with the first two years being paid for by the state. 

Overall, Bertino said that he thought the public hearing went well because the county demonstrated a united front. 

 “We had board of education and county officials speaking with one voice and singular purpose to let the state know that we believe and recognize the unfairness of state education allocations,” Bertino said. 

He added that it was humbling to have the backing of so many county officials and board of education members. 

Shockley-Lynch said the overall goal was to let the commission know that although they agree with the education initiatives, Worcester County wants a fair share for its schools. 

“We wanted a presence there so it didn’t come across that it was just one person,” Shockley-Lynch said. “We are united group working for the same goal. We’re hopeful it will make a difference.” 

Bertino said that any impact from the testimony is yet to be seen. 

“We’re going to wait and see at this point what the Kirwan Commission final recommendations are,” Bertino said. “Then it’s going to go the state legislature where it’s going to be in the political world moving forward. Who knows what deals are going to be made among or by state representatives of much larger jurisdictions to pass this?” 

Bertino thanked Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) for having the group’s time to speak moved from slot 42 to slot three. 

“Our Worcester County delegation made a tremendous effort to travel to Annapolis as a team to testify for fair and equitable education funding formulas not only for Worcester County but statewide, and their united presence sent a strong message to the Kirwan Commission about how one size does not fit all when it comes to the Commission’s recommendations,” Carozza said in a press release.

The next meeting for the full Kirwan Commission will be on Nov. 21. The commission is expected to finish its work by Dec. 1 and final recommendations will be sent to the 2020 session of the Maryland General Assembly for a decision on how to proceed. 

Despite the current funding formula, pending review, Shockley-Lynch remained positive. 

“Worcester County has always been good to the school system,” Shockley-Lynch said. “We don’t think that’s going to change.” 

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