School board ap­proves bud­get

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

ROCK HALL — The Kent County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion on Mon­day unan­i­mously ap­proved Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Couch’s pro­posed bud­get, which calls for an in­crease in lo­cal fund­ing to im­prove teacher salaries and bet­ter sup­port the emo­tional and be­hav­ior needs of stu­dents. With the board’s vote in hand, Couch will next present her spend­ing plan to the Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers for ap­proval. That pre­sen­ta­tion is ex­pected to be held at 6 p.m. Tues­day, April 17 in the com­mis­sion­ers hear­ing room at the R. Clay­ton Mitchell Jr. Build­ing, 400 High St., Ch­ester­town. Couch was ab­sent from Mon­day night’s meet­ing, hav­ing been called away for an emer­gency. Jane Tow­ers, su­per­vi­sor of fi­nan­cial op­er­a­tions, and Gina Jachi­mow­icz, su­per­vi­sor of el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion, pre­sented the bud­get in Couch’s place. The dis­trict is seek­ing about $27.9 mil­lion for the fis­cal year that be­gins July 1. That is a $597,650, or 3.5 per­cent, in­crease over the cur­rent year. The dis­trict also would see its fund bal­ance — un­spent money and a stick­ing point in county bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions over the past few years — spent down to $500,000. In pre­sent­ing the pro­posed bud­get at a pub­lic hear­ing April 5 held by the board, Couch said the dis­trict is see­ing the ben­e­fits of con­sol­i­dat­ing its five el­e­men­tary schools to three this year, by sav­ing on

costs of two now-va­cant build­ings that could be sur­plussed back to the county. Couch said that while there have been in­struc­tional ben­e­fits with con­sol­i­da­tion, such as hav­ing more than one teacher for each grade in all of the el­e­men­tary schools, there are ad­di­tional needs. “We’ve been able to look at ways of im­prov­ing the in­struc­tional pro­gram, but we still see needs within our schools. And so this is what this bud­get is about, in terms of where do we see those gaps and where can we fill in some of those needs,” she said. In­cluded in the bud­get is $670,915 to make salaries more com­pet­i­tive and to cover cor­re­spond­ing costs, such as re­tire­ment funds. Of the nearly $27.9 mil­lion sought, the fund­ing re­quest of the county is more than $17.8 mil­lion. The dis­trict is seek­ing an in­crease in main­te­nance of ef­fort, the amount the state re­quires the county to fund schools, of $539,135. The bud­get also in­cludes a re­quest for an ad­di­tional $58,515 from the county for non-re­cur­ring costs, mostly re­lated to the es­tab­lish­ment of a school bus de­pot, likely in Wor­ton. Through main­te­nance of ef­fort, the state re­quires coun­ties to fund their cor­re­spond­ing school dis­tricts at the same per pupil rate as the pre­vi­ous year. If the Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers ap­prove the dis­trict’s re­quested in­crease, they will have to pay the same amount di­vided by the num­ber of pupils next year and ev­ery year after. Ad­di­tional po­si­tions are in­cluded in the bud­get, no­tably help­ing teach­ers in the el­e­men­tary schools, a guid­ance coun­selor and two so­cial work­ers. At the April 5 pub­lic hear­ing, Couch said ad­ding po­si­tions with­out chang­ing the main­te­nance of ef­fort rate is a chal­lenge. “If you add ad­di­tional staffing, then that’s go­ing to add ad­di­tional costs. And it’s dif­fi­cult if you have to live within main­te­nance of ef­fort and you see in­creased costs for util­i­ties, for staffing, for main­te­nance of build­ings, re­pairs, health­care costs and pro­posed salaries. It’s pretty dif­fi­cult to do that when you see a re­duc­tion due to a loss of stu­dent en­roll­ment and also with try­ing to squeeze all of that out of main­te­nance of ef­fort,” she said. Couch ini­tially set the re­quested hike in main­te­nance of ef­fort for next year at $367,095. The num­ber rose to $539,135 fol­low­ing the April 5 pub­lic hear­ing. Rock Hall El­e­men­tary School Prin­ci­pal Kris Hem­stet­ter and Galena Ele­men- tary School Prin­ci­pal Amy Crowd­ing were the only mem­bers of the pub­lic to speak at that hear­ing, which was at­tended al­most solely by dis­trict em­ploy­ees. They sought the hir­ing of ad­di­tional so­cial work­ers. Hem­stet­ter dis­cussed re­search show­ing how lower lev­els of so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus cor­re­spond to high- er lev­els of so­cial prob­lems, delin­quent be­hav­ior and learn­ing is­sues. She spoke about the high num­ber of stu­dents that qual­ify for the free and re­duced meals pro­gram in Kent County. “I’m in the schools ev­ery day and I see the ef­fects of the sta­tus of our fam­i­lies, be­cause I’m build­ing re­la­tion­ships with those par­ents and also with those stu­dents,” Hem­stet­ter said. The dis­trict added a so­cial worker in the mid­dle of the year to be shared by Rock Hall El­e­men­tary, Galena El­e­men­tary and Kent County Mid­dle School in Ch­ester­town, a move Crowd­ing thanked the board for. “But not un­til she got there did I re­al­ize the pos­i­tive im­pact that she could have,” Crowd­ing said, prais­ing the shared so­cial worker. “Quite hon­estly, all chil­dren right now are strug­gling. There’s a lot of tran­si­tions. There’s a lot of pres­sure.” At the April 5 hear­ing, board mem­bers agreed on the need for full-time so­cial work­ers at each el­e­men­tary school and at Kent County High School in Wor­ton. H.H. Gar­net El­e­men­tary School in Ch­ester­town already has one. The board also agreed to Kent County Mid­dle School Prin­ci­pal Mary He­len Spiri’s re­quest for an ad­di­tional guid­ance coun­selor, prefer­ably a woman. That po­si­tion was already listed in Couch’s pro­posed bud­get. “I think it’s great. I think we’re some­what tak­ing the lead on this so­cial worker be­cause I think, as the years go on, we’re go­ing to con­tinue to see in­creased men­tal health is­sues with our kids. And it doesn’t mat­ter what so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus they come from,” said board mem­ber Jeff Reed, who is an ed­u­ca­tor. Other new po­si­tions al- ready in the bud­get in­cluded help­ing teach­ers at the el­e­men­tary schools. The work­load for prin­ci­pals at the three el­e­men­tary schools in­creased as their stu­dent pop­u­la­tions grew this year, a re­sult of school con­sol­i­da­tion. “Mak­ing par­ent con­tacts, help­ing with some of the re­fer­rals that you might get from some of the class­rooms and/or the buses in the morn­ing, it’s re­ally help­ing in what­ever way to man­age the school, hav­ing an­other set of hands to man­age the school and help the stu­dents,” Couch said of the help­ing teacher po­si­tions at the April 5 hear­ing. When the board re­viewed the bud­get again Mon­day night, mem­bers were happy to see the so­cial worker po­si­tions in­cluded. “I find it crit­i­cal to get these so­cial work­ers into these schools,” Reed said. “I hope the com­mis­sion­ers see the value in what we’re re­quest­ing as well.” The board ten­ta­tively ap­proved con­tracts Mon­day night with the teach­ers as­so­ci­a­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tors and su­per­vi­sors as­so­ci­a­tion. Both in­cluded a re­struc­tured step in­crease and a cost of liv­ing in­crease. In dis­cussing salaries Mon­day, Rock Hall res­i­dent Henry “Emer­son” Cot­ton asked board mem­bers about re­cruit­ing more African Amer­i­can teach­ers. Ed Sil­ver, su­per­vi­sor of hu­man re­sources, said the dis­trict strives to main­tain a di­verse work­force, but there is a short­age in Mary­land of African Amer­i­cans grad­u­at­ing col­lege with teach­ing de­grees, just 400 last year with 7,000 teach­ing po­si­tions to be filled. “There’s a lot of com­pe­ti­tion,” Sil­ver said. “We ap­pre­ci­ate the en­cour­age­ment that our com­mu­nity has given us on this.”

PHOTO BY DANIEL DIVILIO

Su­per­in­ten­dent Karen Couch re­views her pro­posed bud­get for the Kent County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion at a pub­lic hear­ing held April 5.

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