BOE asked to consider new requests totaling $1 million-plus for 2024-25 school year

ROCK HALL — Trying to figure out the magic number for next year’s budget for Kent County Public Schools was the focus of the March 11 regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent Karen Couch presented a list of “requirements, wishes, equipment and instructional materials” in preparation for drafting the fiscal year 2025 budget.

Not included in the list were salaries for teachers, administrators and support staff as the school board has yet to enter contract negotiations with the respective unions.

This is the first step in the budgeting process, Couch explained.

Ultimately, once the spending plan is approved by the school board, Couch will present it to the Kent County Commissioners.

Couch reached out to administrators at each of the county’s five public schools to determine what each school needed to be successful for the 2024-25 academic year. She then organized each request into one of four categories: required, wishes, equipment or instructional materials.

“When we say ‘required,’ it is either something from Blueprint (for Maryland’s Future) or other needs we have in the district,” she told the board. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of needs, and we don’t have the funding to support all of our needs.”

An increase to the KCPS operational budget is the largest request under the requirement category for next year, Couch said, anticipating an increase in utilities costs as well as other expenses associated with running school buildings.

Other requests under the heading of “required” were adding one teacher each to Rock Hall Elementary School and Kent County High School; increasing program funding for the Career and Technical Education programs at the high school; hiring a contracted employee to conduct homeschool reviews; and continuing to fund dual-credit courses at Chesapeake and Washington colleges. The latter two are required by the state.

Another of the requests listed in the required category was a stair chairlift for Henry Highland Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown. A student currently enrolled at Garnet is in a wheelchair and will need the stair lift next year to access their classroom on the second floor of the building.

“This student is not going anywhere, and that building does not have an elevator,” Couch said.

With direction from the board, Couch will ask the county commissioners to fund the stair lift as a one-time, non-recurring allocation. She cautioned that if the request is denied, then the board will have to pay for the lift out of the KCPS budget.

Couch said she believes that the cost of new instructional materials will be able to be covered by a grant, but she is waiting to hear from the Maryland State Department of Education if the grant money can be reallocated.

Equipment requests include 15 student desks and one fold-up cafeteria table for Garnet Elementary School.

Of the requests made under the wish category, Couch said many of them — such as additional instructional assistants and teacher coaches — are currently funded by the Maryland Leads grant, which expires this year. With the grant not being available for the 2024-25 school year, many of the requests cannot be met, Couch said.

“I’m as disappointed as anyone else, but the reality is we do not have the funding in our budget to support them all,” Couch said.

According to Couch, the total amount for “wishes” came to almost $1 million, while she is only expecting an additional $250,000 in funding from the county.

“We’ve got to take care of the required needs and you can see here we’re looking at an excess of $500,000 (for required needs) plus whatever amount we need for salary increases. We’re probably looking at a $1.6 million budget request. I understand everybody wants what they want, and we all would like to have these things, but the reality is the money is not there,” Couch told the school board.

Board Vice President Francoise Sullivan said that while she would like to see an additional school psychologist, “anything that a student is directly touching is important for us to try to make happen, the stair chairlift, the student desks, an additional math teacher at the high school.”

There was some discussion about possibly cutting the late bus due to low ridership to save $50,000, but the board asked Couch to try to craft a budget with the late bus in place.

Couch said she would begin developing a budget to present to the county with the discussed requirements in place, but if “we don’t see those funds (from the county) we will have to make some harder adjustments.”

You can watch the March 11 meeting on the KCPS’ YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/@kentcountypublicschools8455/streams.

Trish McGee, owner and publisher of The Evening Enterprise, is an elected member of the Kent County Board of Education. She did not contribute to this report.

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