Open Letter to WC President Landgraf on Kent County Schools by William Short

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Dear President Landgraf,

I would like to address your comments, which were most welcome, at the Kent County Commissioners‘ meeting on June 5, 2018; and, your letter to Commissioner Pickrum dated June 1, 2018. concerning the $580,000 shortfall in the budget for The Kent County Board of Education. As the President of Washington College, you are one of the pillars of this community, and your words in a public forum have weight. I want you to know that I listened to you and have thought about your words. No one wants the schools in Kent County to fail, most especially the Commissioners; in fact, we are all products of this school system. We were all born and raised here, and this County has deep familial and cultural roots for each one of us.

During your tenure at the Educational Testing Service [ETS), you led the financial turnaround of the organization from near-bankruptcy to create a $1.6 billion global, technology-based concern. In this endeavor, I’m sure you faced some tough business decisions that affected the lives and livelihood of individuals globally. Therefore, you can understand the dilemma of the Commissioners being forced to decide on investing on economic development or investing in our children. At first blush, it seems to be an obvious choice — except, it is not. You state in your letter, “I would like to have more of our faculty and staff choose to live locally, rather than commuting from Annapolis and Middletown.”

I could not agree with your more; however, without proper economic investment, where will they be living and what sorts of commerce will they have locally? The “economic development or education investment” the question is as perplexing as the chicken or the egg causality dilemma.

After thinking about your comments, I believe the communities frustration of this issue stems from approaching it the same way, but expecting a different solution.

In your letter you state, “The investment in public education is the single greatest way to help the college and every other business that calls Kent County home.” I could not agree with you more, and every business, and every person pays their fair share of property tax, with the exception of Washington College. If Washington College paid county tax on the full assessable base of all its properties, the County would receive $837,382. Washington College actually pays $65,541, so there is a loss of $771,841 due to the tax-exempt status of the properties. These figures do not include State and town taxes.

I’m not suggesting that Washington College should not receive benefits offered by the State, but if Washington College gave less than 5% of the interest made from its endowments, Kent County could work to match those funds to meet this continuous shortfall facing our educational system. If Washington College could commit to meeting the County half way ($290,000), this could open the gateway for the County to partner with the College to find a new solution to this issue. Our economic investments will mature in 10 years; so, will Washington College partner with Kent County for the upcoming 10 years [$2.9 million) to make a community for your faculty and staff to live locally? As you aptly said, “Our decisions about funding public education have lifelong consequences.”

With respect,

William Short
Commissioner of Kent County

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Letters to Editor

  1. Kurt M. Landgraf says:

    I just reviewed your letter to me about my letter and public comment about the Kent County Schools.

    As I said In my respectfully submitted written and verbal comments to you, I understand the difficulty you and your fellow Commissioners face in making budgetary allocations. I still believe that we would all benefit by allocating more money to the KCPS.

    I understand the state average is about 45% and the current Kent County budget allocates about 39% for our Schools ….

    In addition I would be pleased to meet with you to explain our endowment process and distribution restrictions

    It is concerning to me that you or any of the Commissioners would take my comments as a critical input. Rather I was providing input for consideration which I believe to be the appropriate process as requested…

    As you pointed out, as an elected public official you will do what you believe is correct for the 20,000 people of the County. I respect this as I hope you respect my desire to provide input about my desire to see Washington College thrive and grow in Kent County.

    Regards,

    Kurt

    Kurt M. Landgraf

    • The amount in the proposed budget they vote on, on Tuesday, is 38%. A significant portion of that goes to Chesapeake College. The actual amount going to KCPS is closer to 36%.

      Thank you so much for speaking, President Landgraf. I really appreciated the support for public education shown by you and Mr Goodall last Tuesday evening.

      ~ Rebecca

  2. Jodi Bortz says:

    The vote for the county budget, including school funding, is Tuesday, June 12. This letter is public posturing to obscure Mr. Short’s stated commitment to vote for a budget that will cost our citizens jobs and harm our schools. If he actually believes a PILOT is in order he could have joined that chorus a few years ago when one was proposed, or he should sit down now with his fellow commissioners and approach Mr. Landgraf and the college community directly in an official way. When and if that ever happens, we can all have a serious discussion about the merits of this idea. Until that time, this is just an attempt at diversion. Do not be distracted. Fund the schools.

  3. Robbi Behr says:

    Short-Sighted, to Say the Least

    Commissioner Short’s suggestion that Washington College is not paying its due makes amply clear that he sees Kent County merely as a collection of items in a spreadsheet—those that add money (taxes), those that subtract it (our public schools), and those that don’t contribute (Washington College).

    While it’s true that the College enjoys the same tax-exempt status that has, for centuries, been afforded our nation’s institutions of higher education, it is naively short-sighted to think that the College represents a net negative to the county. This tax policy reflects the fact that colleges and universities have tremendous positive economic and cultural impact on the communities they serve.

    First Washington College provides extraordinary energy and cultural enrichment to our community. We are all welcome to enjoy lectures, gallery talks, and athletic events at little or no cost – events that would be impossible to organize and fund in a similarly sized community without a college as its hub.

    Second, the College hosts many events and conferences throughout the year that bring people to Kent County who otherwise would not be visiting – parents of students, summer conference attendees, and so on, not to mention the yearly influx of 1,400 students who fuel our economy for four years before spreading out to be daily ambassadors for Chestertown (and, by proxy, Kent County).

    Third, the College acts as a magnet to high-caliber educated retirees who move here to take advantage of everything the College has to offer (the aforementioned programming, continuing education, and the specific population of like-minded, like-valued people the College makes possible).

    These retirees make up a veritable army of talented and passionate volunteers who fuel a huge portion of our community non-profits and social organizations—not to mention the extraordinary work they do for the institutions that purportedly fall under the purview of the county: our libraries and schools.

    Ask any retiree what brought them to Kent County instead of Easton or St. Michaels. I guarantee the majority will cite the College and all it has to offer.

    None of this, of course, adds up neatly in the revenue column, but to ignore the immeasurable benefits of the college in the name of tax-collecting seems, indeed, Short-sighted. (A common refrain these days, and one I hope my fellow citizens will put to rest at the polls in November.)

    Do your research, Commissioner Short. Do your job. Funding our schools for the good of our local families and the future of our economic growth is your responsibility.

    Washington College is already doing plenty.

  4. Francoise Sullivan says:

    The Town of Chestertown started a discussion with WAC in 2015 about a PILOT program. This is not a new idea. I won’t claim to know how a partnership like this would work or get started but I assume it would take more than an open letter posted in an online newspaper from 1 commissioner. And, as others have pointed out, there is no guarantee that this money would be used to benefit our schools.

  5. Judi O'Brien says:

    Out of concern that Commissioner Short has begun to dismiss the voices of Mss. Heriz-Smith, Bortz, Behr, and Sullivan, and others who have been working for transparency and accountability in our county budgeting process and lobbying for greater investment in our public school system, I wanted to make sure to add another voice. I am disappointed to see that Commissioner Short felt it necessary to publish this open letter to Washington College President Landgraf. President Landgraf was present at the last Tuesday meeting, and Commissioner Short might have addressed him there directly and allowed him opportunity to respond instead of resorting to stunts. In the County Commissioner election this year, I will be a single-issue voter. If the county budget passes Tuesday as presented last Tuesday, without fully funding KCPS, my vote will go to non-incumbents and/or write-ins.

  6. Piers Heriz-Smith says:

    I think it is interesting to look at both what Billy Short has said and what he has done.

    Regarding Billy’s concerns about WC’s tax status, regardless of the argument’s value, he has had six years to incorporate that argument into a political platform. He has not.

    Why then now, less than a week before the commissioners enact their flawed budget?

    Cause: His action comes after negative feedback from concerned constituents, a relatively new occurrence.

    Intent: Deflect criticism / change the conversation.

    Politics involves building and maintaining relationships based on common interests and shared goals. If Billy really believes in fully funding KCPS, and believes a voluntary, mutually beneficial financial relationship with WC is required to fund KCPS, he should have started courting WC years ago.

    Instead he calls them out in an open letter, in what amounts to “don’t tell me, you freeloaders”.

    His actions are counterproductive to his stated goals. WC is unlikely to consider a relationship with KC after his hotheaded, shortsighted, and critical exchange.

  7. Phil Ticknor says:

    It’s important to note that regardless of the merits of the College paying more money to the county, seeing this as a “solution” to our revenue problems is misguided. Our revenue problems are born of our economic and demographic stagnation. More money from the college going to the county might slow those effects, but that wouldn’t necessarily stop them – nor would it change our commissioners’ priorities.

    We need commissioners who recognize the stagnation (and I think I’m being generous by calling it stagnation) is the real root problem and who see investing in education as a way to invest in economic development. Commissioner Pickrum recently pointed out that only 2,000 of the county’s 20,000 residents are public school students – as if those students are the only county residents who benefit from an investment in our schools.

  8. Phil Ticknor says:

    Commissioner Short – you and the other commissioners have put forward a county budget that includes a $580,000 shortfall for our public schools’ proposed budget. You have expressed regret that there is such a shortfall, but have also made it clear that you felt the county budget is fair and that that was the best you could do for our schools this year.

    And, yet,, you wrote the following:

    “… if Washington College gave less than 5% of the interest made from its endowments, Kent County could work to match those funds to meet this continuous shortfall facing our educational system. If Washington College could commit to meeting the County half way ($290,000), this could open the gateway for the County to partner with the College to find a new solution to this issue.”

    My question to you is how would the commissioners come up with the other $290,000 when you’ve already made it clear that the current distribution of the county’s budget was fair and the best you could do for the schools? If you think there is ANY WAY to come up with $290,000 more for our schools out of the county’s money, then why wouldn’t you have just tried to do that to begin with? Certainly, anyone can agree that a $290,000 shortfall for our schools is better than a $580,000 one. Why in the world would you make an effort to find $290,000 of existing money to give our schools wholly contingent upon the College chipping in another $290,000.

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