The Star Democrat : 2019-02-11
LOCAL : 4 : 4
LOCAL 4 THE STAR DEMOCRAT MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2019 Fithian floats plan to reopen Millington school working together — what’s best for the county, for all of our students,” he said.
Couch, who was present for the entire meeting, was not invited to the table to speak as part of the commissioners’ discussion. When the commissioners opened the floor to public participation at the end of the meeting, they recognized that she might have some comments on the proposal.
Couch opened by telling the commissioners that the district conducted a nearly yearlong study of all its buildings.
The effort was helmed by a consultant under the guidance of an appointed committee that included County Administrator Shelley Heller. Meetings were open to the public and involved tours of the schools. There were listening sessions and public hearings, one of which Mason spoke at.
“We spent a great deal of time looking at educational configurations, what’s best for our students based on the educational requirements now for a middle school and what’s required in the elementary school,” Couch said. “We considered a number of the same thing(s) that I’m hearing tonight.”
Moving sixth-graders to the elementary schools was determined to be too costly, as the district would need to provide specific educational spaces in the schools that are currently not present. Staffing would be an additional challenge, as the district would have to hire more sixth-grade teachers.
Couch told the commissioners that while the capacity numbers at the high school may be low, that does not mean there are a lot of unused classroom spaces. Couch gave the example of the career and technology program at the high school, which she said has grown since KCHS was built.
“So I would urge you to go to the high school. Go, walk up and down the halls, see what those classrooms are being used for,” Couch said.
She reminded them that she told them in last month’s joint meeting that state-rated capacity is just a number on paper.
“We may have smaller class sizes, but we still have to have the classrooms,” she said.
As for the future of the middle school, Couch said the district planned to include funding for a feasibility study, as outlined in the aforementioned facilities study, in next year’s budget.
“We have to think about all of the possibilities with regard to the middle school. Do we fix that school? Do we build a new school? Do we consider perhaps moving that into a portion of the high school? But in order to do that, you have to make a decision about what is needed for a stellar middle school,” Couch said, noting that every other district on the Eastern Shore has built a new middle school.
Mason said the proposal outlined by Fithian sparks a discussion.
“And that’s what we have to do. We have to start a discussion to see where we want to go and what’s best for students, for parents and for Kent County,” he said.
Speaking Wednesday, Feb. 6, Kent County Board of Education Vice President Trish McGee, who did not attend the commissioners meeting, said she was caught off guard by what was discussed.
McGee, who also is associate editor of the
said Yeager reached out to her in January while readying property transfer documents for signature to ensure they had her proper legal name on the signing line, though she was no longer the board’s president.
She said other than Fithian asking questions at the joint meeting about whether the district was done with consolidation, she did not get any indication that there would be continued discussion on reopening the Millington school.
“Honestly, I did not see this coming,” McGee said.
The school board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, at the KCPS central office in Rock Hall. By DANIEL DIVILIO [email protected] — Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian threw Superintendent Karen Couch a curveball Tuesday, Feb. 5, when an agenda item that appeared to be the longawaited turning over of the former Millington Elementary School to the county ended up being a proposal to return students there.
When Kent County Public Schools last consolidated, it closed Millington and Worton elementary schools. The immediate plan was to surplus the Millington building back to the county while holding onto the one in Worton to explore possible administrative uses.
The wheels were set in motion to surplus the Millington school back to the county, with the expectation that the deal would be done last summer. The county held off due to questions over a revenuesharing agreement required by the state, which helped pay for the school’s construction and maintenance, as part of the property transfer.
On Feb. 5, the transfer of the Millington building was on the commissioners agenda. While Couch was in attendance, she was not called up when the transfer documents were brought forward for discussion and, ultimately, postponement.
On advice of County Attorney Tom Yeager, the commissioners voted to put the transfer of the property on hold, which leaves the school district with the financial burden of a building it planned to have off its books at the start of the current fiscal year. Yeager said there was no need to rush the transfer as there is a possibility of reopening the Millington schools, a move not previously under Board of Education consideration.
“My suggestion would be that we not move forward at this time on the transfer agreement and the deed because they would be moot. It doesn’t make sense to take title of the property and then to transfer it back to the school board, which we would do if CHESTERTOWN the property became used for educational purposes again,” Yeager told the commissioners.
Fithian agreed, citing a previous discussion held at a joint meeting last month of the commissioners and the Board of Education, during which he asked about possibly reopening Millington Elementary, moving sixthgraders to the elementary schools and seventh- and eight-graders to Kent County High School in Worton.
“Some of us have even taken this a step further and we have some ideas we’d like to send to the Board of Education for their review and consideration and stuff. So I agree with what you said, that we just put it on hold temporarily,” Fithian told Yeager.
The discussion was put on pause Tuesday night while other agenda items were reviewed. Then Fithian, who was re-elected last fall, circled back to his pitch to reopen Millington Elementary, saying it is almost inevitable that the county will be confronted with raising additional revenue for schools.
He said while he does not have a problem with that, he wants to make sure the district has gone far enough with school consolidation.
The Board of Education has completed two consolidation efforts in the last 10 years. The first saw three middle schools reduced to one, Kent County Middle School in Chestertown, housing grades six, seven and eight. The second effort cut the district’s five elementary schools to three. The latter was completed as student enrollment continues to drop, causing financial problems for the district.
The high school is at less than half the state-rated capacity for students and the middle school is in need of expensive maintenance.
That has led Fithian to think that seventh- and eighthgrade could move to the high school. With the three elementary schools very near capacity, he suggested reopening Millington Elementary. He said that would allow for sixth-graders to be placed in the elementary schools. He said it also would leave room in the schools if the district’s growth pattern, which has been on a downward trajectory for more than decade, “mysteriously switched.”
“We would then end up with one high school and four elementary schools around the county and we would have room for growth in each one of those scenarios,” Fithian said.
He said the county would then consider sharing the Worton building — which is still owned by KCPS, not the county — with the district.
“Look, this just something that I’ve put together and I’m going to put it in more of an official status and present it to Dr. Couch and the Board of Education and let them take it and do with it what they want. But I would feel comfortable that that’s where our final consolidation should land and it would be, in my opinion, something worth taking a look at,” Fithian said, with Couch sitting in the audience.
Commissioner Bob Jacob, currently in his second month in office, said the schools are in “kind of a doom-and-gloom scenario.” He called for outside-of-the-box thinking in addressing the issues.
“We’re going to need a path to grow at some point and the way we’re consolidating now, we’re not going to have an opportunity to get out of the hole we’re in unless we somehow get creative and put all ideas out on the table,” Jacob said.
Tom Mason, president of the commissioners and also in his second month in office, said the commissioners are throwing the idea out for discussion.
“I think it’s something we can discuss to try to do — Kent County News, SHOP. SUBSCRIBE TO AND RECEIVE STARDEM.COM • UNLIMITED ACCESS 24/7 TO STARDEM.COM
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