Support Our Schools Response to Kent County Commissioners

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Support Our Schools was disappointed to read the letter written (to the Kent County News) by the Kent County Commissioners William Pickrum, Ronald Fithian, and William Short outlining their position on school funding. To use a time when our schools are in the midst of a busing crisis (our families facing unreliable or nonexistent transportation to and from school) as a time to promote and justify their assault on our education system is thoughtless and tone deaf. As concerned parents, we could not let this go unanswered.

Kent County Public Schools (KCPS) have been chronically underfunded for at least the last five years by fiat of the Kent County Commissioners. This underfunding has directly contributed to this crisis. In its preliminary findings, the Commission on Excellence and Innovation in Education (also known as the Kirwan Commission), found that our county’s economic health is such that Kent County schools could be fully funded by the county without state aid. The only reason we continue to rely on state funding is the county commissioners’ decision to allocate our hard earned tax dollars elsewhere.

We would also like to correct the record on some material misstatements made in the letter. While the overall KCPS budget is $26.3M, the Kent County Commissioners contribution to “Maintenance of Effort” (ongoing support for the schools) is only $16.9M. The difference includes contributions to Chesapeake Community College, debt service, and one-time projects, as well as the State of Maryland’s roughly $8M contribution toward KCPS. The Kent County Commissioners allocate a mere 37% of the county expenditures to KCPS, well below the state average of 50%. Further, for some time now, the Commissioners have incorrectly reported the actual percentage as 42%. The “error” was brought to the attention of the county financial officer, who agreed with our finding, but no official correction has yet been made. (An SOS member gave you an opportunity to publicly correct the record on this front, and you [the commissioners] refused to do it, making us wonder whether this is an error or a purposeful misrepresentation.)

Additionally, the Commissioners claim that the schools operated with a $2.9 million surplus in 2016 and a $1.7 million surplus in 2017. We can only assume that they are referring to the school board’s “fund balance” or contingency fund. 1) We question the validity of these figures. 2) Regardless, this is a deceptive characterization of those funds, and seems to demonstrate a misunderstanding of public accounting. And 3) It is essential for a healthy school system to maintain a contingency fund for emergencies, capital improvements, and other unforeseeable costs. The commissioners know this, as evidenced by the pride they publicly claim in operating with a “surplus” every year, holding up the County’s contingency planning as a representation of fiscal responsibility.

We respectfully ask the Kent County Commissioners to tone down their rhetoric and instead to act like actual leaders in this time of crisis. Finger pointing and buck passing should be beneath the dignity of their office. Moving forward, we hope to see a more positive tone, greater transparency, and closer attention to detail where the safety and education of our children are concerned. And, to make a bold suggestion, perhaps our Commissioners could strive for even a hint of personal accountability–a yet unseen quality that most consider a basic requirement of holding public office.

The Support Our Schools (SOS) Initiative is a grassroots advocacy effort devoted to increasing awareness of and support for the needs, challenges, and untapped potential of our public school system—both for the sake of the current student population and for its opportunity to serve as a catalyst for economic development.

Robbi Behr
Jodi Bortz
Piers & Rebecca Heriz-Smith
Elizabeth Profitt
and Francoise Sullivan

A related Spy article on the school bus problem in KCPS – the immediate instigating issue for this letter – can be found here.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Holli Mathison says:

    Thank you, administrators of SOS, for this letter to clarify the double speak we have been subjected to by the County Commissioners for so long. Thank you also for checking into the actual numbers. I confess I had a (foolish) belief that the accounting presented by the CC would be accurate. Really. What kind of people cheat children?

  2. gretchen stroh says:

    Thank you for this follow up report. It is heart breaking to think that the Commissioners who we elected to do a job taking care of our school system choose to neglect it in such a way. Unfortunately, the County Commisioners do not always seems to have respect for it’s constituents. I was very disappointed to only see one commissioner at Monday nights meeting, so they could see the tragedy that is going on with the bus system. I feel they forced the Board of Education to make a bad decision to save money. As one speaker on Monday night put it…the lowest bid is always the most costly….and now we are finding that out. The SOS Initiative seems to be the only voice of reason right now. As of Thursday, we still have had no updates from the Board of Education. It would be nice to know that some progress is being made.

  3. Joan Berwick says:

    Well said compatriots!

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