By DANIEL DIVILIO
- April 24, 2018
CHESTERTOWN — While budget negotiations for the upcoming fiscal year continue between county officials and district administrators, the grassroots organization Support Our Schools is collecting online signatures for a petition to increase education funding in Kent County.
Organized by a group of Kent County parents, SOS seeks to raise awareness of the needs of Kent County Public Schools while bolstering support for the district. On its website, kcpssos.com, the group lists among its goals increasing the district’s annual budget and restoring its reserve fund.
“The (Kent County) Commissioners have noted that dwindling enrollment in our public schools has reduced state funding, forcing the County to fill the budget gap. The Commissioners claim the budget they have provided is adequate for meeting the needs of our students,” the SOS website states. “But there is a huge difference between what is merely adequate and what our County needs to grow and thrive.”
The district here is funded primarily by the county, with the state serving as its second major source of money. Additional funds come from the federal government, grants and donations.
“As you know, a high-quality and competitive public school system is instrumental to our county’s economic health, fueling job creation and the ability to attract new families to our communities. Let our Commissioners know that strong schools are important to you,” the SOS petition on Change.org states.
As of noon Tuesday, 234 people had signed the petition. SOS set a goal of 500 signatures. The petition can be found at www.change.org/p/ask-our-county-commissioners-to-fully-fund-the-fy19-kent-county-public-schools-budget.
The Board of Education has approved a budget of $27.9 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That is a $597,650 increase over the current fiscal year, about a 3.5 percent boost. The budget is now in the county’s hands for approval.
Of that, the district seeks more than $17.8 million from the county, increasing the state-mandated funding floor known as maintenance of effort by $806,815. Expected state revenues total a little more than $9 million.
Included in the budget are a number of new positions, including additional social workers to serve students emotional and behavior needs, and improved starting salaries to better recruit teachers.
Board members approved spending down the district’s fund balance — money held in reserve to be used at the discretion of the superintendent and the board — to $500,000. Maintaining a cash reserve has been an issue in previous budget negotiations with the county, as the commissioners have said they should be viewed by the board as its fund balance.
“I’m not going to raise taxes on the people of Kent County to replace money that’s sitting there doing nothing,” said Commissioner Ron Fithian, who is up for reelection this year, at an April 17 budget workshop. “Now if it wasn’t available, and there were real needs, I’ve proven that I can raise taxes. I’ve done it twice in my 19 years. If there’s a need out there, and it’s a legitimate need, I’m all for it.”
The state’s maintenance of effort requirement establishes a per-pupil rate of funding. Spend a certain amount of money per pupil one year, a county has spend at least that much per pupil the following year.
More students means more overall funding. Fewer students, as has been the case here as enrollment continues to drop, means less overall funding is required of the county.
The county has sought to offset that with funding for one-time purchases and other district projects, such as a new field at the high school stadium.
SOS seeks an increase in maintenance of effort, just as the superintendent and the Board of Education have requested this year.
SOS has a Facebook page with 1,411 members. On it, the group shares information about the district and school activities, as well as notices such as the closure of Kent County High School in Worton on Tuesday due to a water main break.
SOS members also share ideas and news items about other schools that they think could benefit the district and discuss concerns over issues like education funding.
“If the KCPS BOE budget is not fully funded then the BOE will not be able to provide for the additional staffing positions requested. The best way to let our County Commissioners know that we need these positions is to TELL THEM,” SOS cofounder Francoise Sullivan, posted Friday on the group’s Facebook page directing members to the Change.org petition.
Sullivan is running for Board of Education this year.
The petition highlights the need for the county to raise maintenance of effort so the district can fund the proposed social worker positions and an additional guidance counselor at Kent County Middle School.
“To accomplish any of the goals to move our county forward, education must be at the forefront. Schools are expected to provide services on many fronts. The increased need for behavioral professionals must be met to benefit ALL students and families. Thank you,” wrote Carla Massoni, a Chestertown art gallery owner, in the comments section of the SOS Change.org petition.
Another signor, Chestertown resident and Herbal Alchemy manager Krista Lamoreaux, wrote in the petition comments about how schools affect more than just students.
“I believe good, well-funded public schools are critical to the health and “wealth” of a community. Public schools have a direct effect on the local economy. They significantly affect how eager people are to move to the area. This translates into jobs, home values, the economy, the tax base … pretty much everything,” Lamoreaux wrote.
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