SALISBURY, Md. – Linda Sanders is worried about Laciee, her 15-year-old daughter. She says Laciee’s been talking about dropping out of school when she turns 16 in April.
Which is why Sanders, a 42-year-old clothing saleswoman, is focused on education. She’s doing everything she can to keep Laciee interested in school and plans to vote for the candidate she thinks will most help Maryland’s schools.
“Education needs to be a priority in the next administration,” Sanders said. “Our public schools need to be overhauled.”
Indeed, like most of the 20 voters informally interviewed Oct. 1 in Eastern Shore shops and restaurants, Sanders is crying out for politicians to pay attention to schools.
“Our school systems are like alcoholics,” she said. “They haven’t hit rock bottom yet, but they will.”
Six of the 10 lowest-scoring school districts on last year’s Maryland School Performance Assessment Program – a measure of school success – were from the Eastern Shore. Only two of nine Shore school districts – Kent and Caroline counties – broke into the top 10.
Likewise, five of the eight poorest school districts in Maryland come from the Eastern Shore – Caroline, Somerset, Wicomico, Dorchester and Cecil counties.
But Ron Peiffer, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said those numbers don’t show the improvements those school districts are making. “There may be some low-performing kids,” Peiffer said, “but they’re making some extraordinary gains.”
In 1997, for example, 41 percent of students in Dorchester County passed the MSPAP, compared to 21 percent in 1993. In Kent County, 52 percent passed the MSPAP in 1997 – up from 33 percent in 1993, Peiffer said.
Gains were made because of a new focus on instruction in Eastern Shore schools, he said. Instead of preparing its students for local jobs, the districts are now looking beyond their borders.
“These folks are thinking about putting their students in statewide and global job markets,” he said.
Like Sanders, Michael Webber, 39, a floor salesman from East New Market, said he wants even more done to improve education. “We need to do something,” said Webber, who stopped to talk at an Easton church. “Focus on schools and alternative programs for kids who can’t be taught.”
The pre-election interviews also revealed that many favored a tax cut, a major theme of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey’s campaign.
“These taxes are killing me,” said Rob Adams, 30, a fast food restaurant manager from Salisbury.
Several said they believe taxes are too high in Maryland, driving business and jobs out of the state. They said they are looking for candidates for statewide office who want to do something about it.
Marylanders pay 11.2 percent of their personal income in state and local taxes, making it the 18th best in the nation, said Richard Clinch, an economist with the Maryland Business Research Parternship at the University of Baltimore. Residents of Virginia pay 10.4 percent, for a ranking of fifth best in the nation, Clinch said. And those in Pennsylvania pay 11.2 percent, for a nationwide ranking of 17th.
On average, Marylanders paid $2,760 a person for state and local taxes, while Virginians paid $2,308 and Pennsylvanians paid $2,479, Clinch said.
Several of those interviewed Oct. 1 – including Mona Ringgold, 42, an insurance company clerk from Ridgely, and Muir Boda, 25, an automotive technician from Hebron – said they want a governor who will do more for the Eastern Shore.
Sauerbrey “understands the people, not just the people in one particular area of the state,” said Boda, a Republican. “[Democratic Gov. Parris] Glendening has ignored the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland.”
But several said they thought Glendening was doing just fine. “I like the job he’s been doing,” said George Murray, 72, a bus driver and Democrat from Hurlock.
Despite having strong opinions about President Clinton’s “inappropriate” behavior with a former White House intern, most of those interviewed said that the Clinton- Lewinsky affair will have little effect on how they vote in Maryland’s general election Nov. 3.
“I think most presidents have affairs,” said Shay Willey, 23, a pro-Glendening beauty shop owner from Cambridge. “I don’t think he’s going to run the country poorly because he cheated.”
Similarly, while nine of the 20 interviewed said Congress should punish the president for lying about the affair, 11 said he should be left alone.
Sylvester Gordy, 45, a security guard from Salisbury, said Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Clinton is personally motivated. “I’d like to see Ken Starr investigated; he’s out to get Clinton,” said Gordy, a Democrat. “It’s time to leave that family alone. They’ve been through enough already.”
But Keith Hall, 35, a Southern Baptist minister from Easton, said the president should be impeached. “Our president is a criminal,” the Republican said. “Perjury is a very serious crime – even if you are lying about sex.” -30-