Parents Group Challenges Commissioners on School Funding

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Francoise Sullivan (L) and Jodi Bortz of the Support Our Schools group

The Support Our Schools (SOS) parents’ group came to the Kent County Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19, and they had a clear message for the county officials.

Jodi Bortz, Robbi Behr and Francoise Sullivan, three of the founders of the SOS group, told commissioners Ron Fithian and William Pickrum that education should be a priority for county government, and that they will hold elected officials accountable for any shortcoming in the county’s support for the sehools. Commissioner Billy Short was absent from the meeting.

The SOS group read a statement responding to a letter the commissioners published in the Kent County News, in which they said the county is faced with flat revenues both from taxes and from state funding. The commissioners’ letter also noted that they are responsible for running the entire county, not just the school system, which is partially funded by the State of Maryland.

In a reply published in the Chestertown Spy Sept. 14, SOS challenged the commissioners’ assertion and presented data supporting their position. At the meeting Tuesday, the parents reiterated their challenge, noting that the percentage of Kent County’s contribution to the schools is 37 percent of the budget, lower than the statewide average of 42 percent. SOS also questioned why the county required the school system use its fund balance to make up a promised $1.6 million contribution from the commissioners. Sullivan said the schools’ fund balance should be the same percentage as the county’s, which is 7.5 percent of the budget.

Kent County Commissioners Ron Fithian (L) and William Pickrum

In response, Pickrum said schools in “a lot of other” Maryland counties don’t have a fund balance. He said “it doesn’t take forever” for the commissioners to supply additional funding when the school board faces an emergency. He also noted that the county has taxing and borrowing authority, while the board of education does not.

The commissioners called on Pat Merritt, the county’s chief finance officer, to present data supporting their position. Merrit presented slides showing that the county’s contribution to the schools has remained essentially level over the last five years. She also said that the discrepancy between Kent’s contribution to the school budget and the higher percentage in other counties is explainable by the fact that Kent has only 10 percent of its population in the public schools, compared to an average of 15 percent statewide.

Bortz said the health of the school system is a key ingredient of the economic health of the cuunty. She said the commissioners would be well advised to increase the funding for the county’s Economic Development Commission so it can publicize Route 301 economic zone, the county-wide gigabit internet service, and attend regional economic events to publicize the county. An increase in economic activity will produce an increase in tax revenues, providing more money for sehools and everything else, she said. “We stand ready to assist,” she said.

Behr said as the SOS group concluded, “Let’s make Kent County a place to live, rather than a place to die.”

The meeting began with a presentation by Superintendent Karen Couch, who summarized the school district’s decision to terminate its contract with Reliable Transportation of Baltimore, the contractor brought on to provide bus service to the county schools. After receiving numerous complaints of late buses, missed pickups, poor communication and other problems, the school district decided to adopt a hybrid system, under which it would use local contractors for some routes and purchase about 13 buses to serve the rest of the routes in the county. She detailed the financial arrangements, and requested the transfer of $175,000 from the school district’s fund balance to cover the cost of the adjustment. The commissioners approved the request.

Couch also asked if the school district could park some of its buses as the county’s public works department on Morgnec Road and others at the Kent County High School lot in Worton. Current zoning does not allow a bus depot in the county. She said the school district would apply for a zoning text amendment to allow a depot for school buses, and requested a waiver of the application fee. The commissioners approved the request to use the Morgnec road facility for bus parking. As for the fee waiver, County Administrator Shelley Heller said it should be requested when the application is submitted. “That should be a no-brainer,” said Fithian.

The commissioners also approved a request by the school district to fuel the buses from county supplies, which are purchased in bulk at a considerable savings over market price. The audience at the meeting gave Couch a round of applause at the end of her presentation.

 

Bus Company Working to Fix Problems

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Reliable Transportation’ school buses parked at the former bowling alley on Route 213 in Queen Anne’s County

The Kent County Public Schools’ ongoing problems with bus service brought out a large crowd to the Board of Education meeting in Rock Hall, Sept. 11, and both the school board and the new bus company, Reliable Transportation of Baltimore, said they were making every effort to solve the problems.

Buses have been up to an hour late, failed to arrive at all, or dropped students off at the wrong place – sometimes as much as a mile away from the designated bus stop.  Buses have broken down enroute and run out of gas. Poor communication between the bus company, its drivers, the schools, the parents, and the school administrative offices has exacerbated the situation.

Jay Walbert, the bus fleet manager for Reliable Transportation, said in an interview at the bus depot on Sept. 12, that the company has 30 buses, including spares, available for the school district. There are 24 routes in the county, he said, including four buses for special needs students. The buses, all of which are owned by Reliable, are parked in an enclosed lot at the former Kent Bowling Center on Route 213; the company is parking the buses there because Kent County zoning does not currently permit a bus depot in the county.

Walbert said Reliable attempted to hire local drivers with knowledge of the area, but with limited success. At the time he talked to the Spy, he said there were only six local drivers working for Reliable. Others had to be hired in Baltimore, and elsewhere, requiring them to commute to Kent County. Walbert said some local drivers had agreed to work for Reliable, but then failed to appear on the day they were supposed to start work. He said he was still trying to find qualified local drivers who were willing to work for Reliable. Drivers are paid for six to eight hours a day, $19.50/hour, plus benefits, he said. In addition to the regular to- and from-school routes, drivers take students to sports events, field trips, and other special trips.

Training for new drivers, Walbert said, began about two weeks before school opened.  However, as a number of expected new-hires did not show up, Reliable had to scramble to find replacements before school opened.

While new drivers were given training in their routes, Walbert said, many of them have trouble distinguishing landmarks in rural areas. Some side roads are poorly marked or not marked at all, and in some areas, tall corn stalks hide signs. “All corn fields look the same” to a city driver, he said. He said the company put guides with local knowledge on the buses to help the drivers learn the routes.

He also said there were technical problems with some of the equipment obtained from the Kent County Board of Education. All but one bus had radio equipment as of Sept. 12, and a receiver had been ordered for that one, he said. However, the radio base station was an older model that needed to be rebuilt, he said.  So communication with all buses while they are on the road should be available as soon as the base station is fixed.  He did not have a timeline for that. As for possible workarounds of using GPS or cell phones, he noted that there are areas of the county where neither GPS systems nor cell phones reliable.

Walbert said he had received angry and threatening phone calls at his home number since taking the job with Reliable this summer. “I just hang up if they start to curse me,” he said. On the other hand, he said some parents have brought donuts for the drivers, and a group of parents in Galena apologized for the way some drivers had been treated.

Walbert, who lives in Queen Anne’s County, said that he completely understands and agrees with the importance of bus safety and accurate, on-time performance.  He understands that the buses are carrying “precious cargo”. He said that the company is hiring and training new drivers and believes that the problems will be ironed out soon.

This is the first year of a 4-year contract for Reliable Transportation of Baltimore.  Previously the Kent County Public Schools had contracted since 1997 with Kent County Bus Contractors LLC to provide bus service.   Kent County Bus Contractors LLC – known colloquially as the LLC – is a consortium of local bus owners who had organized, among other reasons, to make negotiating contracts easier. This way the school system did not have multiple contracts.  However, due to budget problems, the school system decided to put the contract out to bid for the 2017-18 school year.  Reliable won the bid.

The Kent County Board of Education meets tonight, Sept. 18, at the school board offices in Rock Hall; the open portion of the meeting is at 6:30; the transportation problems are on the agenda. The Support Our Schools group, parents who are concerned over a wide range of educational issues in the county, plans to make a presentation to the Kent County Commissioners Tuesday night, Sept. 19; the meeting is at 6 p.m. in the county office building, 400 High St.

Mid-Shore Foundation Sets Up Fund for Victims of Hurricane Harvey

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In response to the catastrophic damage caused by the Hurricanes, the Mid-Shore Community Foundation has expanded its disaster relief efforts.

The Directors of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation have established a Hurricane Relief Fund to provide disaster relief to the victims of the recent Hurricanes.  The first $5,000 in contributions will be matched by the Founder’s Fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation.

All donations to the Fund will support relief and recovery efforts in the devastated areas.  The funds will be directed to Community Foundations, serving the areas of devastation, to provide immediate and long-term assistance.

The Mid-Shore Community Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity and all donations are tax deductible.  To donate, make checks payable/mail to the Mid-Shore Community Foundation (MEMO: Hurricane Relief Fund), 102 East Dover Street, Easton, Maryland 21601 or donate online at www.mscf.org/hurricane-relief-fund.  For instructions on how to transfer assets (cash or stock), please contact the Foundation at (410)820-8175.

The Mid-Shore Community Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity and all donations are tax deductible. Donations may be made online at https://www.mscf.org/hurricane-harvey-relief-fund/. Checks should be made payable/mailed to the Mid-Shore Community Foundation (MEMO: Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund), 102 East Dover Street, Easton, Maryland 21601. You may also transfer assets or make a grant from a Donor Advised Fund.

 

 

Floral Design and Competition Coming to QA County

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Kent Island will be the site for an Eastern Shore-wide floral design and horticulture competition on September 21st from 1:30 to 5:30 at the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department.  The competition, hosted by the Kent Island Garden Club, is open to all for entries, but all entries must comply with the guidelines of the National Federation of Garden Clubs.

Representatives from all 11 federated clubs on the Eastern Shore will interpret the theme “A Blast From the Past.” The era of LP’s, poodle skirts, and letter sweaters will be depicted in the floral arrangements, memorabilia, and photos submitted by participants. Ideal specimens of horticulture from participants’ yards and gardens will be in another competitive class.

“The Kent Island Garden Club is proud to be the host for this great event,” said Linda Elias, President of KIGC. “The show gives the members an opportunity to display their own talents and to appreciate the creativity of others.”

Judging will occur on the morning of September 21st. The public is invited and welcome to come to the show that same afternoon and meet the designers, club members, and judges. Admission is free. For further information call 410-827-6981.

Are You Ready for the Next Big Hurricane?

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As Hurricane Irma threatens the continental U.S., it’s a reminder that Maryland could well be in the cross-hairs of the next big tropical storm.

The Kent County Office of Emergency Services reminds Kent County residents that September is a good time to review preparedness information for severe weather, including hurricanes, and other emergencies throughout the year. September is both National Preparedness and Maryland Preparedness Month and government agencies, businesses, community groups, schools, and families will be participating in events to help promote disaster preparedness.

“The devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey should remind us that we all need to be prepared for emergencies,” said Russ Strickland, Executive Director of MEMA. “Right now we are in the height of the hurricane season in the mid-Atlantic, but we also need to be ready for a variety of other threats. Now is the time to make sure you are prepared.”

Making preparations when threats are not imminent can make communities more resilient. Hazards common to Maryland include flooding, high wind, severe thunderstorms and winter storms. We are also in the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season right now. In particular, Kent County has experienced severe weather in the past from Hurricanes Isabel and Floyd and from Super Storm Sandy.

 

Several online sources — MEMA, :Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service: provide good emergency preparedness information for these and additional threats: Additional information can be found at https://www.kentcounty.com/oes and https://www.facebook.com/KentCoMDOES,.

For more information about Emergency Preparedness, residents can attend a workshop sponsored by HomePorts, with Kent County Emergency Planner Ginger Gregg, She will offer  tips on ways you can be prepared to  “Shelter in Place” during weather & other emergency situations. The workshop, on the second floor of Chestertonw Hall, is on Thursday, September 21, at 11 a.m The talk is free, but those planning to attend should make a reservation by contacting Karen Wright at 443-480-0940 or email at Karen@homeports.org

Come blow your horn! Join the Eastern Shore Wind Ensemble

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Eastern Shore Wind Ensemble playing in Emmanuel Church in Chestertown

As it begins its 17th season of September-May rehearsals and concerts, the Eastern Shore Wind Ensemble welcomes both returning and new members, with no fee or audition required. The now-sizable group was founded in the Fall of 2001 as the area’s sole community concert band, with Dr. Keith A. Wharton as music director.

The band is a diverse group, ranging from young school students (including some home-schoolers) to retirees with a wide variety of occupational and musical backgrounds. What they share in common is a love of playing high-quality music in a sizable ensemble that values a collegial, supportive atmosphere. For adults, the band offers an opportunity to return to or continue playing wind or percussion instruments—there indeed can be an instrumental-music life after high school or college. For students, membership expands their musical horizons and experience. Ideally, it also leads to a realization that participatory music can be a lifelong pursuit, whether vocationally or avocationally.

The season’s first rehearsal will be on Monday, September 11, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., in the band room (no. 116) in Washington College’s Gibson Center for the Arts, with succeeding rehearsals on most Monday evenings.

To share the fruits of its work for public enjoyment, each season the ESWE gives four Sunday-afternoon, band-sponsored, free-admission concerts: on Sultana’s Downrigging Weekend in late October or early November (this year on Oct. 29), in early December, in mid-March, and in mid-May.

For further information, call 410-778-2829 or 410-810-1834; send an email to ESWEemail@yahoo.com; or check out the Eastern Shore Wind Ensembles Facebook page.

The band is supported by the Kent County Arts Council and community contributors.


 

Live Your Dream! Soroptimists Award For Women

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Soroptimists “Live Your Dream” Grant

Soroptimists, International, an organization by women for women, is sponsoring a “Live Your Dream Award. ” Grants of up to $2000 are available.

You are eligible to apply for the Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards if you are a woman who:

SheliaProvides the primary financial support for yourself and your dependents. Dependents can include children, spouse, partner, siblings and/or parents.

Has financial need.

Is enrolled in or has been accepted to a vocational/skills training program or an undergraduate degree program.

Is motivated to achieve your education and career goals.

Resides in one of Soroptimist International of the Americas’ member countries/territories (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guam, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, United States of America, Venezuela).

Has not previously been the recipient of a Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity or Live Your Dream Award.

Does not have a graduate degree.
Is not a Soroptimist member, an employee of Soroptimist International of the Americas or immediate family of either.

Has a Social Security number or Tax ID number. (This is required for tax purposes and is only necessary if you are a resident of the United States. You will not be asked to share this information unless you have been given an award.)

Deadline to apply is November 25, 2017. Click here to for Live Your Dream application form or contact Connie at cjones14491@gmail.com call 410-778-5352.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracey Williams Joins Kent County’s Economic Development Commission

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Tracey Williams – Kent County educator

The Kent County Commissioners are pleased to announce the appointment of Tracey Williams to the Economic Development Commission.  She was appointed on August 1, 2017, to fill the unexpired term of Dan MacLeod.

Dan served on the Commission for 4 years and the Commission wishes him well in his new position as Director of Technology and Digital Learning in Holliston, MA.

Tracey is a native of Kent County and a 1986 graduate of Kent County High School. Tracey received her BA in sociology and history from Washington College in 1990, an MA in special education from Loyola University in 1997, and earned her certification in Administration in 2002 from Western Maryland College.

Tracey has been in the field of education for 27 years. She has held several positions at Kent County High School over the last 18 years; social studies teacher, career & technology resource teacher, instructional specialist, assistant principal, and principal. She is currently working as the Supervisor for Student Services and Secondary Education.

While working for Kent County Public Schools, Tracey has served on several boards.  During her leadership as principal, Kent County High School earned the following honors: State of Character Awards in 2017, County School of Character Award in 2015, 2016, and 2017, Alliance of a Healthier Generation Bronze Award year in 2014, as well as regional championships in football, basketball, and softball. One of her goals as principal was to ensure each student graduated with a viable plan after high school.

Tracey is excited about the Kent County Fiber project, stating “it will provide internet access for all, and lays the infrastructure for industry and job growth in the community.” She sees our safe family oriented communities, college town, and comprehensive high school as exceptional attributes to economic development in Kent County.

Recognizing that quality education is a critical economic driver, the Economic Development Commission unanimously agreed to recommend the appointment of Tracey to the Commissioners.

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Mid-Shore Community Foundation Donates Over $70,800 to Camp Fairlee

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The Mid-Shore Community Foundation, in Easton, MD, recently donated over $70,800 to Easterseals CAMPaignFairlee, a $4.5M capital campaign to modernize and expand Easterseals Camp Fairlee in Chestertown. Camp Fairlee serves hundreds of Maryland families each year by providing a typical camp experience for children and adults with disabilities, while also providing respite to their families.

“Easterseals is overwhelmed with the generosity of the members of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation that donated to Easterseals CAMPaign Fairlee,” Easterseals President/CEO, Kenan Sklenar, says. “Funds donated helped to expand and modernize Easterseals Camp Fairlee and allow us to provide decades of memories to today’s and future campers.”

The Mid-Shore Community Foundation facilitated grants from its Arthur H. Kudner, Jr. Fund, Ferree Fund, Margaret Herring Fund, Reade W. and Mary P. Corr Fund, and Reynolds/Cristiano Fund for the $70,800 total.

Fairlee Manor is the home of Easterseals Camp Fairlee and the historic Fairlee Manor house. Every building (except the historic Manor House) has recently been replaced or remodeled for your comfort.

“We’ve made small grants to Easterseals for Camp Fairlee camperships for many years,” Mid-Shore Community Foundation’s Chief Program Officer, Robbin Hill, says. “We visited Camp Fairlee last fall and were very impressed with the updates Easterseals chose to make to the campus. We are honored to support the capital campaign for improvements that will enhance the camp experience for children and adults with disabilities well into the future.”

The Easterseals CAMPaign Fairlee project included the construction of a new activity center, health center, four residential cabins, the expansion of the dining hall, and upgrades to the roads and paths of Camp Fairlee. The camp offers campers of all abilities the opportunity for a safe and accessible camping experience year-round. Meanwhile, families enjoy peace of mind, an opportunity to rest and focus on relationships with spouses or other children, and experience activities that are out of reach in their daily lives.

The Mid-Shore Community Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity that connects private resources with public needs in order to enhance the quality of life throughout the Mid-Shore Region of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties.

Easterseals Delaware & Maryland’s Eastern Shore offers a range of services, including children’s therapies, assistive technology, recreational camping, day programs for adults with physical or intellectual disabilities, and respite services for caregivers. To learn more about how Easterseals helps children and adults with disabilities, call 1-800-677-3800 or visit the Easterseals website.

Camp Fairlee

• Sits on 250 rural acres in historic Kent County, MD for a tranquil setting
• Seven modern cabins can accommodate about 140 people
• Food service/commercial kitchen/dining seating for up to 150
• Activity center with gymnasium

Camp Fairlee Activity Center

Camp Fairlee Outdoor Pavillion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• Spacious outdoor pavilion with fireplace
• Nature trails
• Fully accessible
• Affordable; rent all or part of the facility
• Rental revenues support Camp Fairlee programs to benefit people with disabilities

Call (410) 778-0566 to get pricing for your event.
Download the flyer here.

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