Couch presents $27.7 million education budget
ROCK HALL — In her proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Superintendent Karen Couch wants to make starting salaries for teachers more competitive, add a program for 3-year-olds and see an increase in maintenance of effort from the county government. Couch unveiled her spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, at a Kent County Board of Education meeting Monday night. Couch and Jane Towers, the district’s supervisor of financial operations, reviewed the district’s efforts to save money, spend down savings and enhance educa- tional programming. The proposed total operating budget for the next fiscal year is nearly $27.7 million, up $370,477 from the current year’s budget. A public hearing on the budget will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 22 at the Kent County Public Schools central office in Rock Hall. Once the Board of Education signs off on the spending plan, Couch will present it to the Kent County Commissioners for inclusion in the county budget. Her county presentation is currently set for 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 10 in the commissioners hearing room at the R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. Building in Chestertown. Couch said Monday night that with the retention of current opportunities for students and new offerings like a 3-year-olds program at the former Worton Elementary School building, she is very excited about what the next three years hold. She said other districts are trying to get to where “our little county” is in terms of programming. Couch said the five school principals have reviewed the proposed budget and are on board with it. “I think we all agreed that these are the things that we have to do and these are the things that are going to help us move forward as a county,” Couch said. A revenue breakdown provided by the district shows about $17.7 million in funding coming from Kent County coffers, $9 million from the state, just $69,000 from the federal government and $968,297 from other sources. The request from the county is an increase of $425,610 — 2.5 percent — from the current fiscal year, while funding from all other sources is expected to be either flat or down. The district also will be using $695,000 of its expected fund balance — unspent revenue — to balance next year’s budget. Couch said that would leave the district with $500,000 in fund balance in accordance with a policy approved last month by the Board of Education. The state requires counties to fund their corresponding school districts
at the same per-pupil rate as the previous year. This is called maintenance of effort. If MOE is increased one year, it sets a new funding floor for the county. Couch plans to ask that of the Kent County Commissioners for next year. Of the $425,610 in additional county funding she seeks, MOE will be increased $367,095. The remaining $58,515 would be for nonrecurring costs not factored into MOE. In the budget, Couch proposes nearly $1.4 million in district enhancements. The issue of staff recruitment has come up numerous times in recent months, included a pair of recent discussions with the Kent County Commissioners over starting salaries for teachers. The budget calls for $670,915 as part of tentative collective bargaining agreements, enhancing starting salaries and covering corresponding increases in payroll deductions and retirement costs. “And if we are able to bring this into play, we will make significant strides in having more competitive salaries and we will enhance beginning salaries in every one of our salary schedules,” Couch said. Kent County Teachers Association President Ashlee Anderson recognized the district’s efforts in bargaining over the last few years to regain step pay increases lost as a result of the economic downturn 10 years ago. She also commended efforts to make the salary scale more competitive with other districts on the Eastern Shore. “We look forward to joining you and the superintendent in seeking the support of our county leaders during this budget process,” Anderson told board members. Under personnel, administrators would like to add three helping teacher positions, assistant principals of a sort, for the elementary schools, codify an elementary school social worker and bus driver positions added earlier this year, bring another guidance counselor back to Kent County Middle School, hire a part-time behavioral specialist and add two school bus aids. That totals $579,500. The district projects a $135,000 increase in health care costs. The $58,515 in non-recurring costs requested from the county would be used at the district’s Worton campus: $28,315 to erect fencing for a school bus depot, $9,300 for a video surveillance system at the bus depot and $23,900 for carpeting in some rooms at the currently vacant Worton Elementary building, which would be used for office space. Couch said carpeting would cut down on custodial costs at the building that is being eyed as a new, more centrally located administrative office. Couch announced plans to expand a grant for early childhood education to establish a program for 3-yearolds. She said the former pre-kindergarten or kindergarten classrooms at the Worton Elementary building would house the new offering. In addition to enhancing programming for children, implementing a 3-year-old program at the building would qualify Worton Elementary for state capital improvement funding for schools. “Once we relocate an educational program there, it becomes an educational facility,” Couch said. In her presentation, Couch showed how the district brought in $491,483 in grants and other funds that went to capital improvement projects such as the renovation of WKHS, the student radio station at Kent County High School, instructional programming like NextGen Scholars and technology such as coding programs. Couch and Towers also broke down the district’s efforts to save money through enhanced contract bids, joining a federal program that pools resources for competitive pricing for supplies and reduced maintenance, grounds and utilities costs for closed buildings like the former Millington Elementary School. “The cost efficiencies that we have put into place have yielded savings that we believe we can take into next year,” Couch said. Board member Joe Goetz praised administrators’ efforts to find cost efficiencies, though he is concerned about how much longer the district can rely on that. “I just boggles my mind, in a good way, but also in a bad way,” Goetz said. Couch said administrators have a couple more ideas for such savings, though the district is getting close to the end of its rope. Couch’s budget presentation is available through the district’s Board Docs website: www.boarddocs.com/ mabe/ kcps/ Board. nsf/ Public.
Superintendent Karen Couch presented her proposed budget for the next fiscal year Monday night to the Kent County Board of Education.