Couch presents $27.7 mil­lion ed­u­ca­tion bud­get

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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.

PHOTO BY DANIEL DIVILIO

Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Couch pre­sented her pro­posed bud­get for the next fis­cal year Mon­day night to the Kent County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

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