It is a deadline that easily could have been overlooked had board of education President Brian Kirby not mentioned it during general housekeeping at a regularly scheduled monthly meeting. Candidates for the 2012 school board election must file by 9p.m. on Wednesday, January 11. Two seats will be open: those of Kirby, who was elected to a two-year term in 2010; and, Bryan Williams, who was elected to a six-year term in 2006. The 2010 General Assembly, at the urging of the Kent County commissioners and the Kent County Chamber of Commerce, voted to change the school board term here from six years to four years beginning with the 2010 election and to set up staggered four-year terms for the five-member board.
The Kent County Board of Education approved the school budget for 2012 as presented by KCPS Superintendent Dr. A. Barbara Wheeler. The Board commended the work of Wheeler and her staff in meeting the school systems staffing needs under the constraints of a $1-million reduction in appropriations, which is below the Maryland Maintenance of Effort benchmark. During the Board meeting it was learned that two teachers would be laid off to meet budget targets, and another teacher would move to a part-time position. The cuts come in staff reductions of one middle school math teacher and one elementary school art teacher.
KCPS Supervisor of Human Resources Jeffrey S. Grafton said that another full-time teacher will be offered a teacher’s assistant position, which will mean a reduction in pay. In light of the staff cuts, Grafton made it clear that projected staff reductions may not be absolute and that circumstances could possibly help to fend off these teacher cuts through assignment changes.
The only previously known staffing change reported was to the current COO of KCPS, Dexter Lockamy, who was told by board members in early May that the people of Kent County could not support his near $115,000 salary under the current budget crunch. Out of the meeting came the abolishment of the COO position and the creation of a Financial Supervisor in 2012 at a salary of $78,000. Lockamy was undecided on whether he would apply for the new position. Grafton said that Lockamy’s qualifications would make him eligible to apply given the requirements of the position.
Before a motion to approve the budget, BOE member Dr. Michael Harvey was concerned about the loss of an art teacher that would leave six art teachers for seven schools. Harvey asked Wheeler for the plans for the art position. In a last ditch effort to save the art teacher position before adopting the budget, Harvey asked fellow members to look at some of the other budget items that realized increases in the 2012 budget over last year in order to find an additional $20,000 to meet the art teacher’s salary and avoid downgrading that position to a teacher’s assistant.
The board considered cutting the increase in legal services from $96,000 back to the previous year’s funding of $90,000 and scaling back Repairs to Buildings from $98,000 back to the previous year’s level of $84,500. Lockamy warned against any cuts to legal services. Wheeler explained that the increase in Repairs to Buildings was to install lights in the parking lot at Rock Hall Elementary School.
The budget was adopted unanimously without finding money to save the art teacher position.
At last week’s Kent County School Board meeting, members acknowledged a letter from the commissioners stating that the most the school system could expect from the county this year is maintenance of effort. The letter also notified the school board that the commissioners may seek a waiver, meaning they could provide less funding than maintenance of effort. For fiscal year 2011, which ends June 30, the school budget is more than $18-million. At the beginning of the meeting Commissioner Ron Fithian said that financial projections show county revenue down by $3-million this year, on top of the $5-million loss in revenue last year.
Dr. Barbara Wheeler said she understood “revenue issues in the county,” but she also is concerned about continuing to provide students with a quality education. What eats up most of the school budget, she said, are all the unfunded mandates from the state and federal government. Class size is another thing Wheeler is willing to change to save money. “We may have to go to classes of 26 instead of 13. We are going to have to make some unpopular decisions.”
A concern of the commissioners is that the state legislature may decide to shift half the responsibility of teacher pensions to county government. Currently 100-percent of teacher pensions are covered by the state. Dexter Lockamy, the school systems chief operating officer, said that even though the school board has a healthy fund balance of approximately $600,000, most of the money is already reserved to help balance the fiscal year 2012 budget.
Speaking for the School Board Dr. Michael Harvey said, “This is going to be a very difficult fiscal year. We are not going to posture, we are not going to politicize, but we are going to do what is best for the children over all because the kids have to keep learning and we’ll deal with the rest later.”
State Senator E.J. Pipkin and Delegates Michael Smigiel, Jay Jacobs, and Stephen Hershey Jr. were also in attendance at the meeting.
It appears Brian Kirby has won another term on the Kent County School Board. Unofficial figures from the county elections Web site indicate Kirby beat Eleanor Collyer by just nine votes. If Collyer does not contest the results, Kirby will win a two year term. Jeff Reed had the most votes of all the contenders; he gets a four year term. It would not be the first time Kirby has come from behind to win on the absentee and provisional votes. Kirby says that happened the first time he was elected to the BOE.
The final vote on the proposed closing of a school in Rock Hall, restructuring of elementary school to include fifth grade, and consolidation of the county’s three middle schools has been pushed back until. There will be one more public hearing held Thursday, April 8 at Kent County High School. A final vote is expected April 15th. The decision to close a school must be made no later than April 30. The decision must be in writing and must include the rationale for closing.
Rock Hall and Galena Middle Schools will be converted into elementary schools, leaving just one middle school in the county at Chestertown Middle. The central office and alternative school will remain intact. Superintendent Dr. Barbara Wheeler says the county school system just does not have the money to run things as they now exist. Schools are greatly underused because enrollment is way down.
Superintendent Barbara Wheeler and her team met with Kent County residents to discuss possible school closings and/or consolidations at the three middle schools as well as Millington Elementary. Enrollment continues to drop, and it is costing more every year to run the school system. Each of the county’s secondary schools is running at less than half capacity. Part of the plan also includes moving the central office headquarters from Washington Avenue to Rock Hall.
School board members could fall in line with their counterparts across Maryland if the Kent County Chamber of Commerce gets state law changed. At last week’s meeting, Executive Director Cindy Genther said the chamber wants a bill sent to the legislature setting board of education terms at four years. Of counties with an elected board, only Kent has a six-year term; all others are four years. “Our members believe we will get more residents interested in running for the school board seats,” she wrote in an e-mail. Genther said the Chamber board unanimously supports a bill. Dick Goodall and Joan Horsey were the members who approached her about the change. Commissioners Roy Crow, William Pickrum and Ron Fithian said they would send a memo to the school board about the proposal.