School system scales down its ask for county funding

ROCK HALL — After receiving updated funding figures from Superintendent Karen Couch, the Kent County Board of Education on May 6 approved the proposed fiscal year 2025 budget by a 3-1 vote.

Board President Joe Goetz, Vice President Francoise Sullivan and board member Trish McGee voted as the majority.

Board member Frank Rhodes cast the dissenting vote.

Board member Aretha Dorsey did not attend the meeting.

In a telephone interview Thursday, May 16, Rhodes said he wanted what was best for the students and staff of Kent County Public Schools but was worried about the funding requirements tied to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

“I don’t think a lot of folks really know what (Blueprint) is going to present to this county. We’re looking at huge, huge funding shortfalls. I want to make it clear that I want all the money we can get for our schools, but I also want what is best for our taxpayers,” Rhodes said.

He made no comment when the vote was taken at the May 6 board meeting.

The budget as approved would cover an increase in operating and maintenance expenses; negotiated raises for employees; additional insurance costs; and two new teacher positions, a math teacher at Kent County High School and a teacher at Rock Hall Elementary School.

The school system will see a change in the Concentration of Poverty grant and funding for pre-kindergarten.

At the May 6 meeting, Supervisor of Finance Alleesa Stewart said KCPS initially was expecting to receive $129,409 from the Concentration of Poverty grant, but is due to receive $150,365.

As for the pre-K program, because of changes in the state funding formula, students at the Tier II level will no longer be included in state calculations for pre-K funding. That means KCPS will receive $94,352 less than what was initially projected, Stewart told the board.

Under the heading of good news, the state is awarding KCPS a little over $1,400 to help pay for the Blueprint coordinator, a position that is mandated by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

Superintendent Couch told the board that it is important to note that grant money is restricted and cannot be used to help cover things like salaries or insurance costs.

“Those are restricted dollars; those are dollars that go directly to the schools. They cannot be used to help us in any of those other budget categories which we have listed,” she said.

With the change in funding, in order to keep the budget priorities, the Board of Education would need to increase the ask for additional funds from the Kent County Commissioners from about $700,000 to a little over $1 million, Couch said at the May 6 meeting.

“There is no fat to trim. It (cutting staff) won’t ever make enough of a difference and the issues that it would create would be tremendous,” Sullivan said.

Goetz said he understood that other entities will also be asking the commissioners for funding, but the Board of Education is tasked with asking for what the school system needs to function.

“If it is viewed that we are taking advantage of the county, then they are mistaken … we will let them (commissioners) give us a number and then come back and do what we have to do,” he said.

On Tuesday, May 14, during a county budget workshop, Couch presented an updated request for funds to the commissioners.

She explained that KCPS had cut staff positions in the past, including teacher coaches, teacher specialists and student support coaches, and there really wasn’t any more room to make staff cuts.

She said since her meeting with the commissioners earlier in the month, she’d gone back and taken another look at the budget. With savings from retirements, some internal adjustments in the spending plan and by moving $500,000 from the school system’s fund balance, the ask had been cut to $554,540 above what the county is mandated to give by the state.

Commission President Ron Fithian said he appreciated the revised request.

The county will vote on its FY25 budget in June.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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 reporting.

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