SNOW HILL — Competitive salaries for educators and new instructional technology remain at the top of the wish list for parents of Worcester County Public School (WCPS) students this year.
Parents were able to make their requests at the annual Board of Education public budget input meeting this week when the results of parental surveys were also shared.
It came as no surprise that parents indicated funding for teacher salaries and additional technology are priorities, though they did so by an overwhelming percent. Snow Hill Elementary School asked that 70 percent of the money going to their school be used to “provide competitive salaries and benefits.” The rest of WCPS were close behind, with an average budget priority of 50- to 60-percent and no school less than 40 percent.
The comments from Pocomoke Middle School summarized the general feelings on the need for a teacher pay raise.
“Looking at the State of Maryland as a whole,” wrote the school’s parent committee, “Worcester County is falling behind.”
The budget priority on new instructional technology was a close second, averaging about 20- to 40-percent for most schools, with Smart boards being the most popular request by far. Other budget items like new text books and school equipment were asked for, but on a minor basis.
Along with the requests by schools the Board of Education reviewed annual parent surveys to view the bigger picture of attitudes across the county. The return rate for parent surveys did see a dip this year for the second year in a row, dropping from 65 percent in 2012 to 60 percent in 2013. This is still close to double the return rate of 31 percent from 2004, but down significantly from a high point in returns of 73 percent from 2009.
Having a 60-percent return rate is still “phenomenal,” and gives a clear picture of what parents are thinking, according to Barb Witherow, coordinator of public relations and special programs.
“This is the first step in the budget development process,” she said.
Though return rates were lower, positive responses were up and participation from a variety of ethnic groups has evened out.
“And for the first time, you can see that there is not a gap in respondents for white, African-American and Asian populations and that is a first,” said Witherow.
All three groups participated between 56 and 58 percent with a huge 10-point gain seen in participation from African-Americans this year. Only the Hispanic group is lagging behind, with only 45-percent participation.
Another area that Witherow drew attention to was the rate of favorable responses, meaning areas where parents rated the schools satisfactory, good or excellent. Two areas, Cleanliness of Schools and Safe and Orderly Environments, both broke a 60-percent “Excellent” rating. There were five categories overall that had a 99-percent favorability rating.
Though overall return rates fell, the rates for some individual schools improved, with Pocomoke Elementary School seeing a 40-percent jump between 2012 and 2013.
School board members went on the record Tuesday to say that they have heard parents loud and clear and agree with their budget priorities.
“We won’t be able to fund everything but hopefully the two most important items, the salary and the technology, we will be able to get,” said board member Sara Thompson.
The rest of the board made similar statements, with Board President Bob Rothermel telling the audience that he was proud that WCPS “don’t pound our fists on the table” or make demands but instead have a polite partnership between parents, educators and government.