Letters to the Editor, May 6, 2020

W. David Bromwell

Superintendent of Dorchester County Public Schools W. David Bromwell released the following letter on April 29.

Dear Parents and Caregivers:
As you know, State Superintendent, Dr. Karen Salmon, announced that the school closure will continue through May 15. In collaboration with State Health Officials and the Governor, Dr. Salmon will continue to assess the situation and determine when schools may reopen, if they are to open at all for the remainder of the school year.
In the meantime, our dedicated DCPS teachers, administrators, and support staff are here to support students and families throughout the school closure. Our Food Service team has served over 77,000 meals at our distribution sites across the county. This average is over 14,000 meals provided weekly to our students when each meal includes breakfast and lunch.

This is an extraordinary time that calls for unprecedented kindness as families and employees adjust to this ever-changing environment. I remain convinced that we will emerge from this experience as a stronger and more compassionate community.
As we are in the seventh week of extended school closures, every student should be actively engaged in learning at home; whether on a device for high school students or completing a learning packet. Teachers, school counselors, and administrators are connecting with students and families every week. Instruction is occurring, Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings are being scheduled and conducted, teachers are participating in planning and professional learning, and plans are underway for alternative high school graduation ceremonies.

District leaders continue to enhance our Continuity of Learning Plan and have begun to develop a plan for recovery education designed to provide opportunities for students to master curricular skills and concepts that they may not have mastered during the school closure.
Each week, we continue to make progress, putting new structures in place to meet the needs of students during the school closure. I approved recommendations made by DCPS directors, supervisors and administrators centered on grading and reporting.

Many factors were taken into consideration and of primary concern was that NO student’s grade should be harmed because of the COVID 19 school closure. The major tenets of the grading and reporting changes are as follows:
High School Grading During COVID 19 School Closure:
• All fourth quarter assignments will be designated as Pass or Incomplete.
• Students who do not participate in Continuity of Learning assignments throughout the fourth marking period may earn an “Incomplete” (I) as their final course grade and may be required to attend a summer program.
• Details for final grades are still being worked on; transcripts will include a “COVID 19” notation.

• Final exams will NOT be administered during the fourth quarter.
Middle School Grading During COVID 19 School Closure:
• All fourth quarter assignments will be designated as Pass or Incomplete.
• Students continuing their learning through paper learning packets may submit work through emailed photographs, or students may receive credit for work completed in periodic phone conferences with school staff.
• Students who do not participate in Continuity of Learning assignments throughout the fourth marking period may earn an “Incomplete” (I) as their final course grade and may be required to attend a summer program.
Elementary Grading During COVID 19 School Closure:
• Progress will carry over from Trimester 2 unless new content is introduced. Details are being worked through on how to address notations on Trimester 3 Progress Report.

• Finally, you should be aware of changes that are proposed to the 2019-2020 district calendar. Prekindergarten and Kindergarten registration has been rescheduled – we are working on the new dates and details of how we will manage registration for our future new students, and we will share our plan soon!
• On April 14, 2020, the Maryland State Board of Education gave Dr. Salmon authority to allow local school systems the ability to request a waiver for five (5) of the initial 10 school closure days that were lost due to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We accepted the state 5-day waiver. Additionally, April 28th was originally scheduled as an Election day for MD and PD day for teachers. That was adjusted to be a work day for students and teachers.

With these slight calendar adjustments, DCPS will need to make up four school days and will remain on schedule to end school on June 11.
Your continued dedication to supporting your child’s learning is greatly appreciated. You ARE the necessary bridge to your child and DCPS continuing the learning process for our students. Thank You. Stay healthy.
W. David Bromwell
Superintendent of Schools

Taxes and fairness
Dear Council members Newcomb, Travers, Nichols, Pfeffer, and Nagel:
I have verified with the Finance Department that the County property tax rate to be applied to real property within the incorporated limits of the City of Cambridge for FY 2021 is proposed at $.9267 per $100 of assessed valuation, unchanged from FY 2020. This rate is 7.3% less than the County proposed real property tax rate in the unincorporated area. The rate in the unincorporated area remains proposed at $1.00 per $100 of assessed valuation.

As you know, the difference in these two rates is commonly known as the municipal tax differential, whereby State law authorizes counties in Maryland to set an offsetting tax rate in incorporated areas of their counties in recognition of the fact that most municipalities provide certain services that relieve the County, in whole or in part, from providing them to municipal residents. As is customarily done in other counties, Dorchester County has developed a formula for valuation of these services in order to set the differential rate for Cambridge.

The formula itself probably deserves an outside, expert analysis and validation in the future if one has not been performed in the recent past. Both the County and City should agree to the findings of any such report and jointly select and pay for the firm that will perform the study.
However, for the current time, my understanding is that the County’s own formula dictates a 9.8% tax rate differential in FY 2021, not the 7.3% offset the County is proposing and has been granting in the past. That would mean that the real property County tax rate in the City of Cambridge for FY 2021 should be approximately $.90 per $100 of assessed valuation rather than almost $.93 per $100.

While legally the County is under no obligation to comply with its formula, or even provide any tax differential, I would argue that you are overtaxing city residents by not granting the full differential per your very own formula. This economically hurts City residents who also pay a substantial City property tax rate and have just been reassessed, as well as City economic development efforts to attract and retain businesses.

I urge your consideration of a more favorable tax differential for Cambridge City residents in 2021 and request this be entered into the public hearing record.
Eugene T. Lauer