Maryland 3.0: Sprout Moves to the City

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The Spy has been watching, documenting, and eating Sprout food almost for two years now. Almost from the moment Emily and Ryan Groll started cooking in their trailer kitchen just outside of Trappe and home delivering local food freshly prepared to Talbot County, we knew this was one of the startups on the Eastern Shore worth watching.

And they have not disappointed. Since those early days,  the Grolls have taken seriously their mission to give their customers a convenient way to buy and eat healthy, locally-sourced meals. After locking in almost 400 clients on the Mid-Shore for home delivery, Sprout quickly invented the concept of Spoutletts; small, self-contained pickup stations at wine stores, office buildings, and gyms where those not able to use home delivery can pick up their meals using the honor system when it fits their schedule.

Now, Sprout has moved into a new flagship store and kitchen on Aurora Street in Easton for an entirely new phase of their business plan. Open every day, with new offerings like homemade bread, a creative partnership with Night Kitchen Coffee from Denton, and simple “grab and go” floor plan, Sprout is now taking another innovative step in this remarkable home-grown business.

The Spy chatted with Ryan last week about Sprout’s new home.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Sprout. please go here

Mid-Shore Arts: The Other Academy in Easton

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It was a natural inclination of Allegro Academy’s Amy Morgan to start after-school youth and adult music programs in Easton. The music director of Trinity Cathedral was a product herself of early education programs as she moved through elementary and high school, and so the idea of reaching out the Mid-Shore community of singers to from Allegro was second nature.

That new organization is celebrating its first year anniversary, and the Spy thought it was a good idea to talk to Amy at the Bullitt House the other day and catch up the other Academy in town.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Allegro Academy please go here 

 

Greater Chestertown Initiative Questions for County Commissioner Candidates: Public Schools

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Editor’s Note: The Greater Chestertown Initiative worked this summer on a series of questions for the candidates running for one of three Kent County Commissioners to be elected in November. Over the next four weeks, the Spy will share the candidates responses to one of those questions every Monday.

Public Schools

What are you willing to do to make the Kent County Schools the best in the State of Maryland?

Are you committed to budgeting the resources our schools need including:
Competitive teacher salaries,
Pre-school education for our 3 year olds, and
Social workers to support our young people dealing with crises

What will you do to help reverse the perception that our schools are not successful in the face of data that shows otherwise?

How will you market our schools to demonstrate their successes?

Ron Fithian

I’ve served on five different boards and I don’t think that there’s been a board I’ve sewed on that’s done more for education in Kent County than the one I’m sitting on right now. There’s a group called Maryland State Education Association who just put out a political ad. What they’re attempting to do is
to highlight the per pupil contribution from each of the 24 Jurisdictions while showing that Queen Anne’s is ranked in 22nd place. The group is saying, “Look here to see how little our county commissioners value our kids.” It says, “Our kids deserve better”.

Then if you turn the thing over, it’s got all five of the commissioner’s pictures on the front of this thing, and it says, “The county commissioner’s policies are failing our kids. Call the county commissioners and tell them our kids deserve better.” On the other side of it they have the top five counties, and it says, ”These Maryland counties value their students the most.” And they have in great big black letters highlighted, Worcester’s first, Somerset’s second, Baltimore’s third, KENT COUNTY fourth, and Montgomery is fifth. And it says, “These Maryland counties VALUE their students the most. How this group can brag on us while a local group can say we don’t do enough is puzzling to me.

And then let me also say that three years ago, we gave the board of education $758,000 that was to go directly to salaries. It was to be used for nothing but salaries and they did just that. That contribution three years ago was the largest amount of money ever put toward salaries in the history of Kent County. The very next year was the year that we consolidated the schools and we did away with Millington and Worton. It was about a $1,000,000 savings in doing that. Out of that million dollars, they used $900,000 for salaries and benefits, again one of the largest contributions to teachers salaries and benefits in the history of Kent County. So out of the last three years, two of them were record breaking amounts of money that went to teacher salaries.

And then another thing that gets overlooked all the time is this fiber internet service that we’ve got throughout the county. I don’t care who the next commissioners are, there will never be a project that as far as I’m concerned will do more for people of Kent County and the students of Kent County than
that fiber project. I’m not sure it’s appreciated as much as it deserves to be. What that project is going to do is make sure that every kid has the ability to not only be able to use the internet in school, but to go home with their laptop or whatever it is and study, look into the future, and have all their questions answered by researching. They have the ability to do much more than any of the kids in the surrounding counties because the others don’t have this. This means that even the poorest of poor children that will never have internet hooked to their house will have sixty places throughout the
county where they can go and receive FREE internet. Places like Worton Park, Worton Community Center, all the firehouses, all the parks, Main Street of Rock Hall, Fountain Park of Chestertown and many more. To me, that’s enormous.

One question asked is how will you market our public schools. I would think the combination of our fibre, the endorsement of the Maryland State Education Association and two years of record breaking salary increases for our teachers would be a good place to start.

Our IT department was summoned to Capitol Hill. Scott Boon was summoned to Capitol Hill to talk to the Congressional Internet Caucus because little Kent County has done something exceptional. Billy Short and I went over with them and sat in the audience and listened to the testimony. And the reason for having them come over there was because Kent County has done something that probably hundreds and thousands of towns would love to be able to duplicate. And their question was how was little ole Kent County able to do something most of the states in the United States couldn’t think of.

It’s really something that Kent County can be proud of and those of us who were involved in it. That is a marketing tool. There’s a lot of positive things to talk about in Kent County, IF we choose to be positive!

Bob Jacobs

There are two big Economic drivers in this county and the school system is one of them. Economic development as I stated above only helps the revenue of the county if people live here. If we have great schools people live here and pay income tax and property tax. Education is a way of fixing our budget woes, not adding to them. If we don’t continue to make our schools better and continue in fixing the perception of our public schools, we will continue to lose families to Queen Anne’s county. With the county revenue only growing 5% in the last five years it would be important to work with the school system on ways to making our schools better.

I was always told good schools starts and end with discipline. Yes, I would fund the additional funding for additional councilors if needed. Kent county seems to have a few kids like all schools that can be disruptive and cause issues in the classroom. You can’t just give up on those few kids. It is not their fought that they may have challenges at home or other types of issues. The problem is without any additional revenue from the county the school budget is expected to be over a million dollars in debt by 2020 which means the county would have to fund that. The county had approx. 10 million funding balance last year, which is down to approx. 3 million due to the fiber project.

Kent County has a very bad hand dealt to them by the state of Maryland. We pay a much higher percentage of the cost per student than other counties because we are deemed a rich county even though 60 percent of our kids are on free or reduced lunch. We can’t change the bad hand we have been dealt by the state, but we can’t give up. Mathematically the way to fix the school funding issue is to add population to our school. Continued improvement of our school system, coupled with new and growing businesses is key to increasing new families to Kent County. Trying to balance the school budget and county budget by allowing our schools to shrink and population to remain stagnant is the much harder recourse. If you were to get in a downward spiral it will cost a lot more to get out of it. According to the latest info I have seen on population I think our population has trended backward.

Tom Mason

The public school system is of utmost concern to all the citizens of Kent County.  I want to see more cooperation between the county commissioners and the local school board and administration on budget issues before the budget process so government and schools can understand what is needed and what funds are available.  I would like to see a publication that profiles graduates of Kent County Public Schools that have done well in their chosen vocations. This information should be given to all realtors and distributed to prospective home buyers in Kent County.

My children are products of Kent County Public Schools and I have a grandchild now attending, so I want our schools to be adequately funded to provide for all their educational needs.  If we introduce business growth, which will then bring new families, we will have more tax revenue to assist in funding our schools.

I will also explore and advocate through our school administration and state lawmakers the possibility of receiving additional funding from the state to help the schools.

William Pickrum

What are you willing to do to make Kent County Public Schools the best in the State of Maryland?

I consider the Kent County Public Schools already the best in the Maryland. Time and time again, our system is held up as a model for other school systems in the state. As reported one the front page of the June 14, 2018 edition of the Kent County News, I was recognized for declaring the I’m “unafraid to declare Kent County Public Schools the best on the East Coast.” There is always room for improvement. That improvement can come about through allowing our system, and all school systems, to be more independent. Our school board is aware of what the citizens of their want out of their school system, and I support them.

Are you committed to budgeting the resources our public schools need? Including: Competitive teacher salaries Pre-school education for all three-year-old children Social workers to support our young people dealing with crises.

The school system’s budget is developed from the programming of our public school system. This is the legal responsibility of the Kent County Public School Board. Specific programs are not under the Commissioner’s authority. The County Commissioners financially support the public school system and are responsible for protecting county taxpayer dollars.

County Commissioners may only provide funding in the legally required 11 categories.

Administration
Mi-Level Administration
Instruction
Special Education
Student Personnel Services
Health Services
Transportation
Operation of Plant
Maintenance of Plant
Fixed Charges
Capital Outlay

Staff salaries are only negotiated by the school board with the school superintendent. Labor contracts are only seen and reviewed by the school board. The Commissioners are not part of this process and have no legal authority or responsibility. The school board can allocate the available funds as they see fit. Most organizations look at paying their people first. The statement that County teachers are 23rd out of 24 jurisdictions does not tell the true picture. The starting salaries are only at this level. The overall salary schedule could be adjusted with consent of the labor organizations to be at any level the school board desires.

During my tenure, Kent County Commissioners have consistently provided well above the State mandated Maintenance of Effort. Many of the capital projects desired by the school system are funded directly by the Commissioners. I have always supported provision of funds to cover these expenses. This has included providing tablet devices to all Kent County Public School children, providing parking space for system buses, maintaining the grounds, assisting with the internet service to all schools, etc. These costs are not borne by the school system and do not add to the Maintenance of Effort thresholds.

Kent County Public Schools were ranked 6th out of 24 jurisdictions in revenue per pupil in the local funding for schools in Fiscal Year 2017 according to the Department of Legislative Services. We were 4th highest in the State in FY2016. Therefore, regardless of having the smallest system, we spend far more per pupil than most school districts.

The public school system has, for the past 15 years, under spent their budget. This leaves an ever-growing budget surplus (fund balance). The school system has desired to have a fund balance of $500,000. Considering that, it is determined what funds are available above that $500,000. These are taxpayer dollars that are not available for other County needs.

Not all counties in Maryland allow their school systems to maintain fund balances. This is not a state requirement. These are taxpayer monies. Keeping a “slush” fund in the school system is not reasonable at the same time as asking for more taxpayer money. The County is the funder for all County governmental units and will use whatever funds that are available to keep these units’ solvent. If a unit need for more money are not available from county funds, only the Commissioners may borrow the necessary funds.

The school system’s budget has well over $1 million in excess funds. This is enough to fund almost any program the school board desires. This is taxpayer money that is being stockpiled. If the school systems need additional funds, the Commissioners are readily available to meet the need. In fact, any budget adjustments that the school system desires must ultimately be approved by the Commissioners. It is not necessary for the school system to have a fund balance. No other county government unit has a fund balance.

To increase available revenue for the county would require raising primarily property taxes. These taxes are regressive. Some residents can pay higher taxes, but many cannot. The county has each year several properties up for tax sale. Higher property taxes would make the situation worse. The Commissioners have a responsibility for protecting taxpayer dollars. The school system does not have taxing or borrowing authority.

There are under 2,000 children in our school system. Approximately, 1/3 of our under 20,000 citizens are over the age of 60. Yet, over $17 million is allocated to education and only $28,000 to senior services.

What will you do to help reverse the perception that our public schools are not successful in the face of data that shows otherwise?

I have consistently touted the quality of our education system and its staff. The school system must aggressively promote the quality of our education before all of our local organizations, real estate agents, church groups, political organizations, etc. Along with the Commissioners, every publication, where appropriate, must promote the quality of our system. Our website should say we have a top ranked system.

How will you market our public schools to demonstrate their successes?

As stated above, touting our successes at every opportunity and venue should be a must. This must be a collective effort by all.

William Short

Kent County Public Schools have achieved great things since the arrival of Dr. Couch. While the Commissioners fund 56.5% of the Kent County Public Schools operating budget the County Commissioners do not have oversight or authority regarding the allocation and specific use of those funds. The County Commissioners have to rely on the power and authority of The Board of Education to manage and ensure appropriate use of all available funds. I have talked encouragement for years on the future of our school system. At the end of the day words only travel so far, I am eager to see the continued process of the school system through increased academic scoring and state rankings.

When Kent County Public Schools become top rated in the State current and perspective residents will have a clear depiction that the Kent County Public School system is a great place to raise their children.  Under the current funding formula created through the Thornton Commission public schools are funded on a per pupil basis. It is imperative that the Board of Education and the school system as a whole work to reduce the increasing exodus of out of school placement. If out of school placement enrollment was eliminated the school system would receive approximately $5.6 million of increased funding. While the County budget has been tight, with little revenue growth in past years, I have worked diligently to find funds to continually provide the public school system with funding above the required Maintenance of Effort.

The County not only funds recurring operating costs covered under Maintenance of Effort it also funds nonrecurring costs each year and capital projects. The school system and the County have worked well to provide benefits to each other through in kind services and reduced fees. Increased sharing of resources between the County and the school system will provide even greater benefits to both parties. Vehicle maintenance, storage, office space, information technology, finance, and purchasing are just a few areas where increased collaboration needs to be explored.

Tom Timberman

The Kent County Public School System has four basic problems, none of which have diminished the entrepreneurial spirit of the administrators and teachers.  They have delivered best-in-state programs. However, that being said, these four realities reduce County funds available to support the school system: (1) County revenues are static; (2) County population is declining; (3) County population is aging and the number of children in the school system shrinks every year (lost 1/3 of student body since 2008) and (4) Maryland’s formula for distributing public education financial support to counties is based on two elements that hurt Kent County: (1) size of student population and (2) “Wealth per Student”.

The Wealth-per-Student number is arrived at by dividing the county’s property tax revenue by the number of students.  There are a number of valuable water-front homes, whose owners pay high property taxes. Given the dwindling number of students, the wealth per student continues to rise.  Other Eastern Shore counties share the same problem.

This implied finding is at odds with the reality of the County’s income disparities. Fifteen percent of the population is at or under the poverty line; Kent’s median income is $20,000 lower than the state’s and 58% of the students in the middle school qualify for free lunches.

Our representatives in the State legislature need to press hard to change the formula.

An initiative I’m pursuing to establish an academy of advanced technical skills in Kent County is aimed at keeping young people here and attracting others.  The curriculum will focus on 21st Century technologies, e.g. robotics, artificial intelligence and cyber security etc.  All are in high demand.

There is no easy, short-term solution to the underlying challenges affecting Kent’s Public School System.  A friend told me about a plan to attract large sums of money from major education foundations, to use Kent’s public schools as laboratories to test cutting edge programs.   It is also essential we recruit new employers create jobs, pay taxes and whose younger staff will help grow the student population.

This is not one problem it is a complex of interacting problems that need to be addressed as a whole.  To do this effectively, will require introducing a much closer working relationship among all those involved: County and town governments, the school board, the parents, the budget specialists, the business and economic expansion experts, to work on a strategic plan incorporating all the interwoven issues and their possible solutions.  

 

The Fall Season: A Different Kind of Downrigging Presentation

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Every year, the Kent Council Arts Council hands out critically important operational support to Kent County’s numerous arts organizations and artists. That has been their mission since the KCAC was formed and they do a conscientious job with that task.

But the Arts Council also plays a leading role in a few select projects a year where its director takes an active role in helping produce community cultural events that interconnect different forms of expression, from poetry to theatre, to help celebrate the arts in Kent County.

One of those projects is now scheduled in partnership with the Sultana Education Foundation for the 2018 Downrigging weekend. Poet Robert Earl Price will be working with KCAC’s John Schratwieser and Janes Church in Chestertown to present a dramatic interpretation of Price’s work. The Unlading.  The poem,

 acknowledging the historic slave transportation purpose of the same style of ship (ie: the Dutch Man of War, and the clipper ship) as a few of the ships taking part in Downrigging) has now been repurposed into a thirty-minute theatrical production in one of the Eastern Shore’s oldest and grandest African-American churches.

The Spy sat down with John a few weeks ago to talk about this very different kind of Downrigging programming.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. The UNLADING; A Dramatized Poem, written and directed by Robert Earl Price, Commissioned and Produced by the Kent County Arts Council for Sultana Education Foundation’s Downrigging Weekend 2018.

Performances are free and will be held at Janes United Methodist Church, 120 S. Cross Street, Chestertown as follows:

Friday, October 26, 2018 – 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 27, 2018 – 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, October 28, 2018 – 1:30 p.m.

 

Kent Goes Purple Plans with Andy Meehan

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As Kent County prepares of an entire month of programming as part of the Kent Goes Purple drug awareness campaign, the Spy thought it best to check in with Andy Meehan, who has been part of the leadership team at Chestertown Rotary Club who is working with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department to coordinate this sobering but crucial messaging effort.

A few weeks ago, we talked to Andy about what the Purple campaign means for Kent County and some of the activities the public is encouraged to participate in during September.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Kent Goes Purple please go here

Where Professors Become Students: WC-ALL Starts Its 25th Year with David White

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David White is no stranger to college campuses. He had been a professor (middle eastern history) or a dean his entire career before deciding to retire to Chestertown six years ago. So it is no surprise that he now can be seen on Washington College’s campus as the current chair of the Advisory Council for WC-ALL; the community’s lifetime learning center.

WC-ALL celebrated its 25th year this summer and the Spy thought it was a good time to check in on this important program for over 400 students, and asked David to stop by the Spy HQ earlier this week for a quick chat.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about WC-ALL and its programs please go here

Progress on the Raimond Building: Art Council’s John Schratwieser on Phase I

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As with most projects of this kind, without some very strategic financial support up front, historic restoration projects rarely move beyond the dreaming phase.  While it is always hard to fundraise, without the backing of one key person or institution in the first phase of a capital program, no campaign can succeed.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that John Schratwieser, the director of the Kent County Arts Council and primary leader in restoring the Vince and Leslie Raimond Arts Building on Spring Street, was so thrilled to talk about a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority “Stories of the Chesapeake” capital grant for $100,000 toward its renovation.

In our check in with John last week, he outlines how this grant is such a critical part of this three-phase effort to add gallery spaces, meeting rooms, artist studios, and residences to one of the oldest remaining structures in Chestertown’s downtown.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Kent County Arts Council please go here

 

Spy Poll Results: Landslide for Independent Film Screenings in Chestertown

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Perhaps the results from the recent Chestertown Spy poll on the popularity of independent films possibly being shown in town are not entirely shocking, it still is rather remarkable that the love of these alternative flicks reached almost 94% approval from a total of 208 responses.

The other news is that almost 40% of those who took the poll are now driving to Annapolis of DC  on a frequent basis to watch independent films and that almost fifty percent would attend a independent film screening twice a month.

The Spy hopes the new owners of the movie theatre in town, Washington College event programmers and our beloved Garfield Center for the Arts will take notice of these interesting  results.

 

 

 

Spy Poll: Would You Support Independent Films being Shown in Chestertown?

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With the good news that a movie theater was be making its return to Chestertown in the next month or so, the subject of what kind of films this new establishment will offer has come up recently with our chats with Spy readers.

Typically, a movie house in a college town offers a far greater variety of films than most cineplexes. Beyond the action flicks and formula-driven romantic comedies that have become standard fare these days, there is a real attempt to bring independent films to these communities knowing there is a real customer base for such alternative motion pictures, with many of them find themselves on the Academy Awards list every year.

The Spy has no knowledge of the new owners’ programming intentions, but thought it wouldn’t hurt to share with them how much support, or lack thereof, there would be for the screening of independent films in the greater Chestertown community.

Take the Spy poll and tell us what you think? Fill out the survey here