Citizens Weigh in on Cecil County Budget; Urge School, Ambulance Funds

May 8, 2012
By

Cecil County’s proposed budget drew mostly polite comments and gratitude from representatives of programs that were frozen but not cut in the new Fiscal 2013 budget but some supporters of the public schools and county emergency services workers forcefully disagreed with Commissioners’ priorities.

The Cecil County Commissioners drafted a $169 million proposed budget for Fiscal 2013 that would freeze public schools funds at the current level, give a 1 percent cost-of-living raise to county employees and keep property taxes at the “constant yield” rate. However, since overall revenues are down due to the recession and declining property values, just to bring in the same amount of revenues as this year, the property tax rate will increase by five-cents, from .9401 cents per $100 of assessed property value to .9957 cents in the new budget year, which begins July 1.

The proposed budget also taps reserve funds for $3 million to provide over half of a $5.9 million increase in county spending in the new budget year. But over $2.4 million of that figure is actually a contingency plan for the anticipated state shift of teacher pension costs to the county.

Dr. D’Ette Devine, the county Superintendent of Schools, told county commissioners at a public hearing on the budget Tuesday afternoon that the decision to provide flat or “level” funding of the schools, at the same $67.1 million as in the current year, will give a slight cushion over the bare minimum of spending required by the state.

The state “maintenance of effort” mandate requires the county to provide the same per-pupil funding as in the previous budget year. A 110-student decline in enrollment in the new budget year means the county’s decision to freeze the budget will give the schools $481,382 over the “maintenance of effort” mandate level.

Dr. Devine said the schools would use the funds to help train teachers and staff to comply with new “common core curriculum” mandates being set by the state. She said she hoped an improving economy would allow commissioners to “take another look” at capital and building needs, especially the need to begin planning for rebuilding Perryville elementary school. She also cited the need to replace dilapidated athletic field bleachers at North East High School.

An Elkton parent, Adam Fleischhacker, a faculty member at the University of Delaware, made an impassioned plea to increase funds for the public schools to ensure enrichment classes, vocational education and especially better instruction and opportunities at the middle school and high school level.

The parent of two children attending Elk Neck elementary, he praised that school but said he and other parents feared they would have to move or send their children to private school for the higher grades because there was an atmosphere “where mediocrity prevails.”

Patrice Burchett, president of the local union representing county emergency services employees, took the County Commissioners to task for not including provisions in the budget to address a serious problem with slow response times for emergency ambulance services.

“I am astounded,” she said, that the commissioners have not made allocations in the budget to improve ambulance services despite warnings over the past year that the situation is serious and could result in loss of lives.

“The almighty dollar is not worth any human life,” Burchett said.

In recent months, there has been controversy over a proposal by Richard Brooks, the emergency services director, to create a basic ambulance service operated by county government at three locations in the county to supplement the basic services currently provided by volunteer fire companies. That proposal triggered an outpouring of protest from most of the county’s fire company leadership.

But the costly proposal was not included in the new budget and the citizens’ advisory panel had recommended against the expenditures, which could have cost over $6 million during a four-year period.

The new budget also does not resolve the issue of very slow ambulance response times in southern Cecil County. A $100,000 counter-proposal by the Cecilton and Hacks Point fire companies, to hire paid emergency medical staff to supplement volunteers, also was not specifically included in the budget.

However, county commissioners have held several closed-door meetings with representatives of the fire companies to discuss emergency services and what some say is dissatisfaction with Brooks’ leadership on the issue.

County Commissioners are scheduled to vote at 2 p.m. on May 22 on the proposed budget, as well as a separate capital improvement plan covering construction, maintenance and repair projects.

Overall, the proposed Cecil County budget provides for $169,135,431 in spending for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2012, up by more than $5.9 million over the current $163,233,252. The rise amounts to a 3.6 percent increase in spending. But much of that rise is attributable to the county setting aside more than $2.4 million to cover the anticipated costs of the state beginning to shift teacher pension expenses from the state to the county government.

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19 Responses to Citizens Weigh in on Cecil County Budget; Urge School, Ambulance Funds

  1. Tidewater on May 9, 2012 at 8:13 am

    The professor is correct to begin packing while his taxes continue to go up and public education continues to accomplish its goals.

    “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality” ~ H. L. Mencken

    “Dr.” Devine should take another look at what the State is telling us to do and then tell them, no thank you. we Don’t need your stinkin standardized tests, one size fits all diploma mills and endless taxes to pay for it all.

    At least the teachers will get their automatic pay raise, again. God knows they need it to make those bank payments and union dues.

    • Alexis on May 10, 2012 at 7:02 am

      Tedwater, the education system of the 1920’s (Mencken’s era of influence) was much different than today’s, as was the transportation system, health care system and just about every aspect of our lives. You seem to have a solipsistic attitude toward education, perhaps because you spend so much time at the keyboard. I did not see you speaking out at the budget hearings. Perhaps a more public, personal role would influence the commissioners in budget decisions.

  2. Madre19 on May 9, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Tidewater – If the county does not follow state mandates & curriculum, graduating students will not receive a MD High School Diploma. This is not Little House on the Prairie – 1 room schoolhouses do not exist anymore.

    No complaints about the county giving a 1% COLA raise to EVERY employee? Just bash the school system with your narrow minded comments but leave the county alone. Wow, that’s just scary!

  3. Adam Fleischhacker on May 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Just to be clear, I am not saying Cecil County schools are mediocre. In fact, when it comes to personnel involved in the schools, they are quite impressive and I am honored that my children are in CCPS. The teachers, administration, and staff deserve more money! My basic argument is that education should be a larger priority for the County (in 2001, the schools received over 48% of the county’s revenue. In 2012, that number is a mere 39%). Some of my actual comments from the meeting are below:

    “The last reason I offer for more money for our schools is that we need additional programs to complement our current offerings. Each child deserves a path where they can be challenged and engaged. Given a diverse student body in terms of abilities and interests, challenging and enriching paths for each student requires a diverse set of educational and enrichment offerings. Unfortunately, the one size fits all approach is being dictated by a one-size fits all funding model. The County’s cuts in education force a curriculum and environment that caters to the median student, an environment where mediocrity would prevail. Without enrichment, students disengage and as noted in the County’s own 2007 strategic plan, and I quote “virtually all interviewees stated that young people do not have enough constructive activities in which to engage.” Disengaged young people are vulnerable to negative influences such as gangs and drugs. Do we want to see the gang graffiti, not to mention the crime and violence associated with increased drugs on our streets and increased gang activity? Is this the vision of Cecil County that we seek by consistently underfunding schools?

    The obvious answer is no, so let’s enrich our kids. Let’s fund more sports. Let’s provide a diverse set of educational offerings with both vocational and AP offerings that can cater to a diverse set of student interests and abilities. Let’s also provide facilities that can support these programs. Right now, the school district is scrounging for money just to fix a set of bleachers at a middle school or get a 60-year old boiler replaced at an elementary school. Let’s fix our funding so that bleachers are paid for, the boiler is a non-issue, and we can expand the educational and enrichment offerings at the school.

    One goal mentioned in the County’s strategic plan is “to see a dramatic acceleration in white-collar job formation, including in technology, finance, defense contracting and health.” If we want these jobs, a strong educational system must be part of the equation. White collar workers want good schools for their children and the availability of an educated workforce dictates the location decisions made by Fortune 1000 companies and other white-collar employers.

    To Tidewater: We are in agreement about standardized tests. I am not sure I would quote Mencken as he is quite controversial, but I get the point. I think you and I would disagree on spending at the local level, but maybe I am wrong. Unlike federal and even state tax dollars, each dollar spent on CCPS stays in the area to be respent. Dollars put into CCPS are truly investments in Cecil County’s future.

    • Taxpayer on May 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm

      I agree, more money for schools. Here is a way that the schools can have $1.6 million more to invest. A surcharge of $100 per student is assessed to each student attending the schools. How many would vote for that proposal? Yet, senior citizens and childless taxpayers are asked to pay more for sports every year. Treat the schools the same as other county provided services (landfill, sewer, water) and charge for the services provided. Then see how many people ask the county to raise fees for “diverse set of educational offerings”. Well that is what you are asking every taxpayer to do, pay more for a service they do not use. Imagine how much investment would be made with a $200 surcharge.

      • Just a chimp on May 10, 2012 at 6:33 am

        Public education, duh, is guaranteed by our Constitution to ALL children. It is defined as a FREE, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. You’re living in America, Taxpayer. Love it or leave it. If we fail to provide our children with access to an excellent educational system, we’ll ALL be screwed. Criminals won’t care whether or not you have children when they come to victimize you and the people you love.

        • Tidewater on May 10, 2012 at 7:39 am

          What’s that constitutional citation?

          Tax slaves don’t live, they exist. We stopped being America when you people started to act like King George with the peoples money.

          We have the most restrictive educational environment on the planet now, so how’s that 20 something doing living in your basement without a job?

          The criminals might not care whether or not I have no children or ten, they will, however learn to appreciate the 2nd amendment of the US Constitution if they come to victimize me or any one in my family.

          Live Free or Die.

        • OvertaxedSenior on May 10, 2012 at 3:21 pm

          Sorry chump, but there is no guarantee of of a free or any form of Public Education in our Constitution.

          If you think that there is, please site the instance. Go ahead, look it up. It will probably be the first time you ever read the constitution.

          You’ll be surprised how many other so called rights are claimed to be in the document, but surprisingly, are not there or ‘guaranteed’.

          As a senior, who never had children, went to and paid for private schools and have paid thousands of dollars for others’ children, I think it is time that parents pay the load. Maybe then they will be a little more responsible, attentive and active in education other than blaming everyone else because little Jack and Jill can’t read, write or do simple math.

    • Tidewater on May 10, 2012 at 7:21 am

      I’m not opposed to education professor, just government run schools. They’re very expensive and they’re boring. The kids are bored. The teachers are bored, and therefore boring. The curriculum is boring , and ill prepares young people for habits of mind that allow them to come up with “enough constructive activities in which to engage” themselves. It’s not that the kids don’t have enough things to do, they just don’t have any idea how many things they can do in such a wonderful environment as rural Cecil county because all they are being taught to do is what the STATE is mandating, prepare and take the test, the test, the test and of course another test!

      If I were in a government run school today, I wouldn’t take their stupid tests. Who needs a high school diploma if you can’t use it to get a job? Who needs to go into major debt just to go to college with your High School diploma just to spend more time not making a living?

      The boring routine of the government run school system stunts a child’s mental development, it doesn’t help to create critical and independent thought. How can children think out side the box,if they never get outside the box we call a classroom in a government run school that look like prisons without bars? …

      Children must be urged to take on serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology, all the stuff government school teachers know well enough to avoid. Children need to be challenged with plenty of solitude so they can learn to enjoy their own company. Children should have have a meaningful life, and they can, just not in a government run indoctrination center like CCPS.

      The government run schools devastating idea concerning “diversity” amounts to a highly motivated child being placed in the same group as those whose preparedness and appreciation for education are not “within their culture“. This is what leads to mediocrity, not the lack of more sports…

      Children in government run schools do way too much sitting and not enough moving around. You laugh, but remember if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer as a pre teen, then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today, there’s no telling what our kids could do professor.

      I have nothing against those who labor away on the education plantation or CCPS in particular, they just happen to be the local example. Educrats are just like hamsters on a tread mill since they are victims of the same failed government run school system. If you doubt government run schools are a complete failure, just think of the food they serve and the current health of our kids.

      It’s controversial to keep asking tax payers to “invest” in a failed government run school system with their hard earned dollars with such pathetic results. The words of a deceased satirist, not so much.

      I do agree that everybody deserves more money, as long as they earn it. We would be much better off with one room school “houses“, many of them, for all kinds of apprenticeships.

      If it’s an investment in the future your looking for, let me tell you we’d be much better off, and so would the kids if we just opened a 401 K for each child instead of continuing to throw money down the current rat hole we call the public school system.

      I’m saying run, with an educational voucher in hand, don’t walk away from the failed government run school system if you are serious about the future of your children and our republic. If you can’t get an educational voucher for your child, DEMAND IT!

      • Adam Fleischhacker on May 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm

        Tidewater, your response is tremendously interesting. I appreciate all of your comments and am already taking a new look at the amazing life of Benjamin Franklin.

        Our visions of a good education are remarkably similar (as is our belief that rural Cecil County offers a wonderful learning environment with lots to do). We just differ in whether this education is best delivered through CCPS or through some other delivery method. If one were to accept CCPS as the best delivery method, and at the moment I do, then more money and more offerings are a key to a successful school system that can do more than just meet currently imposed government mandates (those mandates are expensive, but we must play the hand we are dealt).

        If one believes in the dismantling of public education as the best route, I am not convinced that Cecil County wants to be at the forefront of this change. Following this path, I envision a “bright flight” from Cecil County and many ill effects as a result. Do you know of a community or district that has prospered because of systematic underfunding and dismantling of a currently successful school system?

        For the record, I think you would be a tremendous advocate for our children if your input was part of the curriculum discussions that are currently taking place. You could certainly help insure that the money you are putting in the system is put to good work! Imagine the impact you might have by shaping the curriculum to be less educratic.

        Thanks again for the thoughtful reply.

        • Read More on May 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm

          Professor Adam,
          You may be new to education discussions in the comments area of Cecil Times. Many of us are much more familiar with Tidewater Ted’s rants against the Cecil County schools– and against ALL public schools– from his dogmatic, ideological, Ron Paul and John Birch Society perspective. He was being a bit better behaved with you, but please don’t ever think he would be a “tremendous advocate for our children.” Tidewater Ted is still angry that he can’t get a decent job despite his UD degree and is looking for scapegoats.

    • SchoolMarm on May 10, 2012 at 7:32 am

      A small, and probably unimportant, point: if one is opposed to standardized tests, it should be noted that the AP test IS a standardized test, written and promoted by the same folks at the College Board who bring us the much maligned SAT tests.

      • Adam Fleischhacker on May 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm

        agreed. When I say promote AP, AP courses do not have to be the exact offering. I am actually more interested in promoting some type of advanced learning for talented kids in subjects that interest them.

  4. RuKidding on May 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    To be clear, unless the proposed budget is changed the Commissioners only funded a 1% COLA for the COUNTY employees. They did not provide funds to the College or Library to provide their employees with a 1% increase– i.e., the College had a budget cut and the Library was flat so obviously no funds were provided. How can that decision possibly be justified?

    As for CCPS, funding should be increased for the good of the children, and the teachers deserve a raise, as do ALL county employees!

  5. Al Reasin on May 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    In this discussion of county and CCPS budgets not much if anything was mentioned about mandates. One reason overhead staffs are larger and thus more costly is because of reporting and the like to manage programs that are mandated, paid for or not by the controlling agency. The state mandated pre-kindergarten program is not counted as part of the student body, so these CCPS students are not supported by the county or state. When I go to school board meetings or when I moderated the presentation the Patriots had on the CCPS budget, few citizens are seen and Tidewater has not been among those few.

    I have had my discussions with Dr. Devine over the layoffs and who were cut in terms of position and have problems with the CCPS spending money to make sure, regardless of the effort put forth by the student, they are not allowed to fail. But the latter program is from No Child Left Behind.

    I have pushed the last 3 years for all budgets to identify the source of the mandates, if each of the mandates are funded and if so by what percent for each line item. It is very difficult to formulate positions on what should be cut when that information is lacking. The CCPS are doing some of that, but the other budgets are doing little. For example, by law, special ed cannot be cut, period, regardless of the availability of county money resources.

    Another avenue is zero budgeting; having the department heads justify each line item including employee positions…My point is that the budget is not a simple document down to the line items.

    What seems excessive, as I have found out many times, is unavoidable in the present regulatory environment. So in a major way, changing policies at the federal and state level may have more impact on the budget than what citizens, commissioners or administrations can do locally.

  6. Al Reasin on May 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Oh “Just a Chimp”, the MD Court of Appeals ruled in 1983 that a public education is not a fundamental right.

    http://www.educationrightscenter.org/MARYLAND.html

  7. Just a Chimp on May 29, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Education is guaranteed by the Constitution, stating [the state] “shall by Law establish throughout the State a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and shall provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.”

    The ruling Mr. Reasin refers to is about equity in funding by the state to all MD school districts.

    Free Appropriate Public Education, better known as FAPE, is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and IDEA.

    CONSTITUTION OF MARYLAND, ARTICLE VIII, EDUCATION.

    SECTION 1. The General Assembly, at its First Session after the adoption of this Constitution, shall by Law establish throughout the State a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and shall provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.

    SEC. 2. The System of Public Schools, as now constituted, shall remain in force until the end of the said First Session of the General Assembly, and shall then expire; except so far as adopted, or continued by the General Assembly.

    SEC. 3. The School Fund of the State shall be kept inviolate, and appropriated only to the purposes of Education.

  8. Just for the Record on May 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Yo Chump,
    If you are going to quote the Constitution, please be specific. The Constitution of the United States of America does not consider it a ‘Right’.
    Your quote is from the Maryland Constitution.
    Far too many people leave little things ambiguous as a means to fool the public. The Maryland Constitution, also, does not consider it a right.
    It is a privilege. Now if we could just get students and parents to look at it that way.

  9. Just a chimp on May 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Yo Just for the Record,

    First, my bad. On my first post I did not specify STATE constitution. I believe I clarified that by my recent post citing the CONSTITUTION OF MARYLAND, ARTICLE VIII, EDUCATION. I don’t think that was ambiguous. The federal government only mandates (and minimally funds) certain requirements by such acts of congress as; The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA was passed in 1965 and was most recently reauthorized in 2002 as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Since federal funding for these mandates is minimal, the responsibility to fully/adequately fund K-12 education lies with the states. Thus, the Constitution of Maryland guarantees a free and appropriate education to all children [in Maryland]. “Free” meaning provided by public funds.

    Second, I never said public education was a RIGHT. Now you say education is a PRIVILEGE.

    priv·i·lege   [priv-uh-lij, priv-lij] Show IPA noun, verb, priv·i·leged, priv·i·leg·ing.
    noun
    1. a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.
    2. a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities: the privilege of a senator to speak in Congress without danger of a libel suit.
    3. a grant to an individual, corporation, etc., of a special right or immunity, under certain conditions.
    4. the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities.
    5. any of the rights common to all citizens under a modern constitutional government: We enjoy the privileges of a free people.

    Help me understand your position regarding privilege.

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