Cumberland Times-News

November 21, 2013

Education must be made a top priority

Cumberland Times-News

— The Garrett County commissioners disappointed me last night (Nov. 19) and failed the children of Garrett County — again. I give credit to Mr. Gatto for putting up a resolution to make the Board of Education whole so they would at least have a starting point for budget planning that would not require closing schools. His motion died without a second.

According to the Maryland Association of Counties, Garrett ranks 20th out of 24 in the percentage of the local budget devoted to education. Frederick is the only jurisdiction in the State physically larger than Garrett. Frederick ranks number 14 in the state in wealth, but devotes 52 percent of its local budget to education, while Garrett being 13 square miles smaller ranks number five and devotes 41.2 percent of its budget to education — almost 11 percent less.

Worcester County, ranked number one in the state in wealth, has Ocean City in much the same way we have the lake and the windmills. They are really quite similar to us. More than 11 percent of their population lives in poverty, 45 percent of their students qualify for free and reduced meals, and their median household income is only $11,700 more than Garrett’s.

Their education commitment is very different, however. 50 percent of Worcester County’s budget is devoted to education. Public schools get 69.9 percent of their funding from the county. Garrett devotes only 41.2 percent of the budget to education funding (including money for the college, the library system, and the scholarship program so the K-12 number is actually closer to 35 percent) while 47 percent of our K-12 funding comes from the county.

The wealth formula in Maryland is intended to equalize funding so that wealthier counties who can afford to pay more get less support from the state, while poorer districts get more support. As we have climbed in the wealth rankings, our state support has been reduced severely. Our local support has increased somewhat, but it has come nowhere near filling the gap, which has resulted in closed schools, slashed programs, deep staff cuts, longer bus rides, and overcrowded schools.

Budgets are about priorities. We as a community need our commissioners to make education more of a priority in the Garrett County budget. It is not about how much we collect, it is what we choose to do with what we collect that defines us. 20 out of 24 is not good enough!

Mike Pula

president, Garrett County

Education Association