BOE to ask county for $930K in additional funding

ROCK HALL — As part of the budget process, Kent County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Couch presented a proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2025 to the Board of Education at its April 8 meeting.

Couch told the school board that before beginning the budgeting process, a survey was distributed to staff, administrators and teachers to ask what they would like to see in the FY2025 budget, “but as we know … it’s not just a case of what we would like to have, but what we have to have and what we will need moving forward.”

She said the priorities for next year’s budget include salary increases for employees, an increase in health insurance costs, an increase in operational costs and requirements for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

When crunching the numbers, Couch said she estimated an 8% cost increase for salary and insurance, but she did not have final numbers as negotiations were ongoing with the unions that represent KCPS employees.

According to a PowerPoint presentation shared during the meeting, operating costs, including utilities and maintenance, are projected to be $267,000 for FY2025.

“We have been running in the red for operating costs this year. We have had to utilize more money in maintenance this year than we have in years past simply because our buildings are older and utility costs have gone up,” she said.

Other budget priorities include a staff position to conduct homeschool reviews, which is a state requirement, two new teacher positions, and increased funding for College and Career Readiness and Career and Technical Education.

The total for salary increases and budget priorities is $1.9 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

With anticipated increases in funding from the state and county and with KCPS using $800,000 of its fund balance, Couch said she would be asking the commissioners for an additional $932,344 at the end of this month.

“If we don’t get that money we are going to have to go back and cut that out of the budget, and it’s going to be brutal and it’s going to be painful,” she said.

Board member Frank Rhodes cited all the funding requests being presented to the county commissioners and asked why KCPS couldn’t use more of its fund balance to try to help the county out.

“I don’t think it’s efficient for us to have all this money sitting there and I understand you want to leave money for the next person, but I think if we have the money, we have to use it,” Rhodes said.

Couch said spending down the fund balance to make the budget whole was fiscally irresponsible because all you were doing was “making a financial cliff.”

The fund balance should not be used to pay for recurring costs like salaries and operating costs, she said, and should only be used for emergency, one-time expenses.

Couch said with the new funding regulations in Blueprint it is more difficult for school systems to move money around in their budgets between departments because all the funding must be assigned to specific line items, making their funding streams much smaller.

Couch is hoping to leave a healthy fund balance in place for her successor — she is retiring at the end of June — to help with the FY2026 budget process.

After some more back and forth, board President Joe Goetz reminded board members that they are required by state statute to ask for what they need to fund the school system and “it is up to the county on whether to fund it or not.”

The school board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 29.

Couch will present the proposal to the county commissioners the following day.

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

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