I’m always amazed when people call for change, yet keep doing the same thing while expecting different results.
When I ran for county executive, one of my major topics was jobs. The citizens said they want not only more jobs, but better jobs in Wicomico County. While it is true we lost many jobs during the recession, we also lost the companies that offered those jobs.
Many of those who lost their jobs have remained in the area; the companies that were forced to close have never returned to the county. The companies that survived were ahead of the times when the recession hit — and were more technology-driven.
When I would go out to talk to companies about locating to Wicomico County, the single most important theme their chief executive officers spoke of was an increased need for workforce training in college-level courses, especially in technical fields. They emphasized the need for more education and skill sets.
With that, I worked with Ray Hoy of Wor-Wic Community College to help find a solution. We came up with the Wicomico Economic Scholarship Fund, which we patterned after a successful program in Garrett County that is now more than 10 years old.
This fund would allow families challenged by economic times to give hope to their children for a better life — and an education beyond high school. We used the requirements of successful programs in other counties, such as income restrictions, grade point average and county residency.
You see, this would help give Wicomico County a better-educated, well-trained workforce. This would also attract out-of-town businesses to come and establish a home in Wicomico County.
After extensive discussions, the County Council approved this program legislatively. But after the fact, the council began to say the program was too generous on the income a family was allowed to make and still qualify.
They actually demanded money be returned — after posing for photo ops when the legislatively approved check was presented to the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore.
Now they want to change parts of the grant program whenever they so choose — and without any public input or input from my office. The council now wants to change the grade point average, not only for acceptance into the program but also the grade point average students must maintain.
The state of Maryland requires a 2.0 grade point average, which is, as most of us know, an average grade for graduates from high school and to remain in a state university.
The Council wants to increase this to a 2.5 GPA, which would further limit the number of people who qualify and could remain in the program. This change will likely disqualify more than a third of Wicomico County high school students.
Basically this is just another step toward shutting down the scholarship fund.
You can’t have things both ways. Council members seem to communicate to one group that the program is a good thing and we need it, then turn to the next group and tell them they plan to rein in the requirements and make it tougher.
For the program to succeed, it needs time to work — without being changed after only three semesters.
To date, more than 300 hundred students have come to Wor-Wic because of the scholarship fund and other funding opportunities available to them.
Wicomico County has only paid for 30 of these individuals. Let me repeat myself, we have more than 300 Wicomico County school system graduates who are now earning college degrees and will contribute to society — and it has only cost taxpayers $39,000.
The council’s priorities seem counter to the wishes of the majority of our citizens and only serve to undermine any sense of credibility and continuity. Rather than taking the advice of educational experts like Hoy, a professional who is highly regarded across the state, they have taken it upon themselves to tinker with and ultimately undermine a program that has been successful elsewhere.
In doing so, they would deprive those less fortunate than themselves of the opportunities this program provides.
Bob Culver is Wicomico County Executive.