Sultana & Students Help Conserve Radcliffe Creek


Students from Kent School and Radcliffe Creek School pose at Chestertown Town Hall, where they displayed projects summarizing a year-long course on Radcliffe Creek  –  Photo by Peter Heck

Students at Kent School and Radcliffe Creek School gathered at Town Hall Tuesday, May 28, to show projects created as part of a year-long study of the ecology of Radcliffe Creek.   All were “Action Projects” in which the students first studied the subject then came up with ideas of how they could make a difference for a cleaner, better environment.

The projects are the end results of a class created by Sultana Education Foundation, enlisting some 200 seventh-grade students at county schools. Radcliffe Creek runs along the north and west edges of Chestertown, entering the Chester River just downstream from the armory.

Beth Lenker of Sultana Education Foundation  – Photo by Peter Heck

A wood duck nesting box built by Kent School students for installation along Radcliffe Creek

Sultana’s Holt Education Director, Beth Lenker, said the students’ work was their response to the question, “What can we do?” at the end of the course, which included classroom work along with field trips along the creek. Each of the projects has the overall goal of helping to clean up the creek, the Chester River, and the Chesapeake Bay, Lenker said.

Projects covered a range from building nesting boxes for wood ducks, which will be installed along the course of the stream; trying to persuade local restaurants to discontinue using plastic straws; and erecting a sign in Gateway Park, which borders the stream where it crosses High Street, to make visitors aware of the need to protect the environment. One group of students created stencils to paint signs at storm drains, to remind everyone that they empty into the river, while others created a game to make younger students aware of some of the wildlife that inhabits the creek. And still another group created a plan to completely eliminate plastic bags from the local community.

Radcliffe Creek School Storm Drain Stencils project (kneeling in front) Hunter Morrison, Nasr Matthews, Kentie Smith; (standing middle row) Nellie Rhodes, David, Schell; (back row) Jack Rhodes, Benjamin Anthony  – Photo by Jane Jewell

Sultana instructors worked with teachers Hannah Richardson of Kent School, Heidi Usilton of Radcliffe Creek School, and Karen Carty and Katie Hughs of Kent County Middle School. The project came together about two years ago after Sultana received a grant for it, and the teachers put together an outline for the course. Lessons learned this year will be applied to refining and adjusting the course for next year, Lenker said.

Students from Radcliffe Creek School who worked on a storm drain project said that there are three drains on their campus plus many more around town that drain directly into Radcliffe Creek.  Their project will stencil messages on or near the drains that will inform people and hopefully reduce the amount of pollutants that end up in the river and from there into the bay.  One stencil design states “No Waste — Drains to River”.

Kent School Project to persuade restaurants to use more ecological alternatives to plastic straws. (kneeling in front) Shawn Barry, Bob Hollis; (standing) Allie Butler, Sophia Kent, Eddie Gillespie, – Photo by Jane Jewell

Students in Kent School’s ExStrawdinary Project went to restaurants and other businesses that sell beverages and gave them information on the problems caused by plastics in general and plastic straws specifically.  They then presented the advantages of the four main alternative materials that straws can be made from–paper, metal, corn, and bamboo.  They asked the business to make a pledge to investigate these alternatives to plastic straws and then to seriously consider switching to one of them.  They displayed a long list of local businesses that made the pledge. (See the list below in the Photo Gallery .)

Rain Garden project: Parker Severs & Asher Bowman  – Photo by Jane Jewell

Students in a Rain Garden project did some research and found that planting vegetation with deeper roots can help a nearby river by absorbing more water and holding more soil. That helps reduce both erosion and pollution. The students then selected ten such plants—including black-eyed Susans and Echinacea–that can grow well in our area to plant along the creek. Seventh-grader Parker Severs said that she intends to plant some this summer in her own yard at home near low-lying spots that tend to collect water. Reducing small stagnant pools of water will also help reduce the number of mosquitoes—a real bonus!

It’s cool how engaged the students are in putting together the actions projects,” Lenker said. She said the projects could make a tangible difference in the health of Radcliffe Creek with ripple effects for both the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay.  But it’s most important that the students are learning that they can–as individuals or as a group–make a real difference in real problems.

Students from Kent County Middle School are scheduled to show their projects at the school this Thursday, June 6.  Those projects will be featured in a future Spy article.


**  Photo Gallery **

Save the Bay project students from the Kent School – Page Starky, Issie Leach, Lucas LaFleur, Maya Whyte, Hayden McKensie – Photo by Jane Jewell

All projects were presented on poster boards, a standard practice used in academia and the scientific and business worlds.  – Photo by Peter Heck

Radcliffe Creek School project group  – Photo by Jane Jewell

List of businesses pledging to consider switching away from plastic straws. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Save the Bay project displayed a hand-painted recycled bag with the slogan “There is no Planet B.” – Photo by Jane Jewell

Save the Bay project poster from Kent School – Photo by Jane Jewell





WKHS Radio Celebrates 45th Anniversary with Fundraiser


90.5 on your FM dial is WKHS Radio at Kent County High School – Photo by Jane Jewell

WKHS, Kent County High School’s student radio station, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this week, March 24-29. And to mark the occasion in appropriate style, student DJs are spinning vintage 45-RPM records from the station’s extensive library of hits.

The Chestertown Spy, which is a sponsor of the station, paid a visit Tuesday morning and found three KCHS seniors, Aaron Drabic, Branden Aargo and Taiyana Goldsborough at the mics. Goldsborough was spinning records by such acts as Hall and Oates, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and Jimi Hendrix, announcing the anniversary fundraiser between tunes. Drabic and Aargo interviewed guests (including your Spy editors) and added commentary. Also present were J.P. Henry and his mother Jane Ward, who came from Cecil County to deliver a donation in the form of a “magic trick:” a stuffed bunny in a box with $45 attached to the rabbit when you pull it out of the box. J.P. is a big fan of the station and of WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania station that fills WKHS’s programming slots when there is no local programming available.  WKHS is on air 24 hours a day with either WKHS or WXPN programming.

Seniors Branden Arrgo, Aaron Drabic, and Taiyana Goldsborough have been in the KCHS radio program for three years. – Photo by Jane Jewell

“Magic Bunny” donates $45 for 45 years. Volunteers and supporters Jane Ward and her son J.P. Henry. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Station manager Chris Singleton was also in the studio to help pick out the records. Singleton, who has been station manager for 11 years, served as the station’s engineer for 19 years before that. But his career at the station goes all the way back to his own student days at the high school when he was a DJ at the station in his own right. And, he says, his position involves a lot of instruction in the day-to-day operation of a radio station. The program typically includes 30 to 35 students, from 10th to 12th grades. Seniors are at the station 2 periods a day, while 10th and 11th students get one period a day. Part of the school’s technical education curriculum, WKHS aims to give its students the skills to move directly into professional broadcasting. And it works – a number of the station’s alumni have gone on to careers in broadcasting, either on-air or behind the scenes.

Aaron Drabic said that all the students take their radio jobs very seriously.  This is not a toy station, he said. In addition to the on-air sessions, the students make podcasts for later online streaming of many of their interviews and special programs.  Recent podcasts include an interview with author Will Haygood that originally aired on WKHS on March 21 of this year and a program on Student Cell Phone Usage in the Classroom that initially aired on March 8.  All podcasts can be found here on the WKHS website.   In doing all the various tasks, the students have gained valuable experience with professional software such as Adobe Audition.

Ken Collins show off the new state-of-the-art digital equipment – Photo by Jane Jewell

WKHS, broadcasting at 90.5 on the FM dial, has a 17,500 watt signal – one of the strongest in the nation for a student station. Ken Collins, the station’s main fundraiser, says he can easily pick up the signal as far away as Crisfield on the lower shore and in Columbia and Baltimore on the western shore. Listeners can also tune into live broadcasts on the station’s website at Perhaps surprisingly, considering the small population of Kent County and the size of the school, it is the only student station in Maryland. However, the station’s feed is not broadcast in the school during class hours; the signal goes out to the rest of the community, but only those students actually in the studios can hear what’s on the air.

As part of the 45th anniversary – the official date is March 28 – WKHS is conducting a membership drive to raise funds for equipment and renovations to the station. Walking into the studios after not having visited for a couple of years, the results of previous fundraisers are plain to see. All the studios have up-to-date professional-quality equipment – computers, microphones, mic stands, etc. – essentially the same as what you’d find in a big-city station. The old soundproofing has been replaced, cables have been put out of view, and much of the engineering has been moved to its own separate room instead of being housed in the studios. As a result, the main studio is more attractive and far roomier, with plenty of room for both students and guests. The station has a very professional look now. Collins told us that Phil Dutton and the Alligators played a live session in the studio for Chester Gras this year – they all fit in and the sound was great, he said.  You can hear that interview and the Alligators’ music here.

Senior Taiyana Goldsborough hosts a radio show on WKHS every morning. – Photo by Jane Jewell

WKHS regularly broadcasts Kent County High School sports, including baseball, football, and basketball. It also broadcasts a performance recreating Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” every Halloween, with the students taking the various roles in the script. And a regular feature the last few years has been a simulcast of the Rock Hall fireworks show.

In the evenings, when the students are out of school, local volunteers broadcast a variety of musical programs, from classic country to jazz to big band to eclectic programs such as Lain Hawkridge’s “Musicology” program Thursday evenings. Singleton said that the community volunteers range in age from 14 to almost 80. The volunteer who has been with WKHS the longest is Mike Martinez who began his popular Monday evening show in 1990.

During the late night hours and weekends, the station carries programming from WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania station. The arrangement with WXPN benefits both stations, giving the Pennsylvania station an outlet in the local area and providing programming (and some funding) to WKHS.

Since they began fund-raising in 2013, the radio station has raised close to $200,000 which includes a sizable grant that Superintendent Karen Couch and the school board helped them to get.  All this has gone to remodel and update the school station.  There are still a few major pieces of equipment and software that the station hopes to be able to acquire soon in order to complete the upgrade and to maintain the station.  Tax-free donations to WKHS can be made with PayPal on the station’s website, or by calling 410-778-8100 or 778-4249.

Station Manager Chris Singleton with volunteers and supporters Jane Ward and her son J.P. Henry. – Photo by Jane Jewell


Good Seeds: a Garden for Garnet School


“Good Seeds Garden” plan showing Garnett Elementary School front view on Calvert St. and topside, bird’s-eye view. Plans by South Fork Studios.

Thanks to the Chestertown Garden Club and local parents and teachers, Henry Highland Garnet Elementary school is about to get “a beautiful native landscape and education space,” the Good Seeds Garden. The project is designed to enhance the school’s curb appeal, visually connect the school to nearby downtown Chestertown, and foster pride of place among students, teachers, and residents.

Members of the Good Seeds Garden team attended the Chestertown Mayor and Council and the Kent County Commissioners’ meetings on Jan. 22 to announce their project. Speaking at the town council meeting were Carolyne Grotsky of Downtown Chestertown Association’s Curb Appeal team, Connie Schroth of the Garden Club, and Garnet parents Krista Lamoreaux and Darran Tilghman.

Carolyne Grotsky, Darran Tilghman, Connie Schroth and Krista Lamoreaux attended the Chestertown council meeting to promote the Garnet School Good Seeds Garden.

Grotsky said the project began about a year ago when some Garnet parents asked Curb Appeal to help plant some flowers and landscaping at the school, which they did with some parents and volunteers. The town donated some soil and mulch. But she and the parents decided they could do something better, and so Grotsky went to the Garden Club, who she said “are always looking for good educational projects here in town.” Together they formed a committee to launch the new project.

Tilghman told the council the name of the Good Seeds garden comes from a quote from Henry Highland Garnet, for whom the school is named. Garnet, a Kent County native who went on to national renown in his fight against slavery, said, “In every man’s mind, the good seeds of liberty are planted.” She said that when her family moved to Chestertown about a year and a half ago, they learned that the schools “don’t have a great reputation.” She said the barren appearance of the school as you drive past it on Calvert Street reinforces that image, in contrast to the “vibrant” community she felt when she went inside and engaged with the staff. The garden is a conscious attempt to change the image.

The garden will be coordinated with the schools’ environmental literacy curriculum in order to involve the children in the project. Lamoreaux credited Miles Barnard of South Fork Studio with creating the plans, which feature “edible plants, playful pathways, tree stump seating, and professional murals.” She listed some of the species to be included, such as persimmon, oak and magnolia trees, shrubs such chokeberry, blueberries, native grasses, plus culinary and medicinal herbs. “It’s a bird habitat, it’s a pollinator habitat, it’s a kid habitat,” she said. And the use of native species reduces the need for maintenance once the plants are established. The University of Maryland Extension helped with the selection of plants.

The Garden Club’s Susen Fund, a trust left by the late Shirley Susen for educational projects, has pledged $5,000 as seed money for the garden project. Moreover, Garden Club members will undertake the long-term maintenance of the garden, including additional funding as needed. The Good Seeds team has also submitted a “Clean Up Green Up” grant proposal and is exploring additional grant sources.

Good Seeds Garden logo by Robbi Behr

The Kent County Board of Education has given its approval for the project. Other supporters include South Fork Studio, which created a design for the garden, drawing on suggestions by Garnet teachers and students. Local artist Robbi Behr has created a logo for the project and will also create signage for the completed garden. Shore Rivers will install a rain garden along the Kent Street side of the school to capture runoff and “engage young environmental stewards.” And many of the school’s neighbors have volunteered to help with the project.

For its part, the town of Chestertown will contribute bricks recovered during the renovation of the town-owned marina and install them as part of a brick entrance way leading to a compass rose, making a “visual connection” to the town’s brick-lined streets and maritime history. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he was happy to donate the bricks – “they’re all in perfect shape, so I’m really pleased to see them being recycled.” And the county commissioners agreed to remove some large bushes currently in the area that will be used for the garden plot and to donate some receptacles for trash and recycling.

Donations from the general public are also welcome. Donors should send checks payable “CGC/Garnet project” to Carolyne Grotsky, P.O. Box 415, Chestertown, MD 21620.

A community launch event is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 30 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the yellow building on Calvert Street behind the Chestertown library. Groundbreaking and a major segment of the planting is tentatively scheduled to begin on or around Earth Day, April 22.  Stay tuned for more details.

Enlarged birds-eye view of the proposed garden.  Plans for the “Good Seeds Garden” by South Fork Studios.


Garnet Fourth-Graders Open Exhibit Dec. 4-9 at WC’s Kohl Gallery


A whole new kind of exhibit opened at Washington College’s Kohl Gallery this week, when local fourth-graders invited their families to see their work on display in Gibson Center for the Arts. The exhibit, “Artworks by Fourth Grade Students at Henry Highland Garnet Elementary, inspired by the collage works of Jo Smail,” will be up Dec. 4-9 in conjunction with the final week of “Clippings, Voids & Banana Curry,” featuring work by Smail, who teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

At the exhibit opening on Tuesday, Dec. 4, students and their families joined Julie Wills, assistant professor of studio art and Kohl Gallery’s interim director, Benjamin Tilghman, assistant professor of art history, and Sara Clarke-Vivier, assistant professor of education, for a reception and showing. Students excitedly pointed out their work for their moms, dads, and siblings, posing for photos and snacking on cookies and veggies.

“This is really exciting,” Tony Hicks, whose daughter Seiauna Thompson showed her work to her family. “It’s awesome.”

Seiauna Thompson shows her work to her father, Tony Hicks, while her little sister Takayla Hicks, watches.

The exhibit is the result of a collaboration between Clarke-Vivier, Tilghman, and Garnet teachers that began last year, when two classes from the second and third grades came to Kohl Gallery to create art in response to an exhibition of works inspired by Islamic art. This year, the entire fourth-grade art class—45 students—studied Smail’s collage art, which addresses the racism and social violence she witnessed as a child in South Africa through collages that combine family recipes with newspaper clippings and other material.

Students learned about Smail’s art in class, then traveled to the Kohl Gallery to see it in person and engage in a conversation facilitated by Tilghman. Then, Clarke-Vivier and several Washington College students, some of them majoring in art or education, helped the students create their collages using their own family recipes, assorted newspaper clippings from the present day, and other materials.

Clarke-Vivier and Tilghman, whose children attend Garnet, came up with the concept to help to bring more art into the lives of local kids, and to bring them to the campus and introduce them to the Kohl Gallery—for some, one of their first art museum experiences. Clarke-Vivier also wants to give her students a hands-on opportunity to see the challenges and rewards of teaching in an informal education environment, such as a museum. And together, as parents and as College faculty members, they wanted to show direct support for Kent County schools.

“We want them to know that both art and the College are available to them, and they are there for everyone, and they can have both those experiences here,” Clarke-Vivier says. “We reinforce to students that it’s free and it’s open and they can bring their families back.”

WC students Noah Smith ’22, Holly Shaffer ’21 and Anna Watts ’19 (center) help the fourth-graders with their collages.

Both professors have backgrounds in museum-related work. Clarke-Vivier’s research relates to school-museum partnerships for learning (some of this research led her to help create a new cultural museum in Belize.) Tilghman worked at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore for four years, and worked in children’s museums throughout high school—a touchstone for his understanding of museums as welcoming, joyful places.

“That has always been a part of how I think about museums, that it’s not just a repository for old beautiful things you can’t touch, but that it should be flexible and lively,” he says. He and Wills hope projects like this will broaden the purpose and popularity of Kohl Gallery.

“One of the barriers to entry to museums is people think they are stuffy places,” Clarke-Vivier says. “We want [students] to know they can talk, and ask questions, and interact, it’s not like a library where they have to be quiet. And those preconditions allow for pleasurable learning experiences related to art. That’s really important too, to helping people feel like it’s something for them.”

Clarke-Vivier says the project is already yielding results that she and Tilghman had hoped in terms of forming new bonds between the College and Garnet.

“Now when I walk to Garnet there are kids who are like, ‘Dr. C-V, from the art museum! Hey, remember me?’ They’ve made a connection with us as part of the people they know in their existing community at Garnet, but also transition people between the College and the school,” she says. “I think there’s something really important about that in terms of creating this sense of accessibility.”

KCHS Seasonal Sensations Dinner and Silent Auction Dec. 12


On Wednesday, December 12th at 6:00 pm, the Kent County High School Music and Culinary Arts Program presents the 11th Annual Seasonal Sensations Dinner, Concert and Silent Auction at the Kent County High School Cafeteria. Enjoy a meal prepared by very skilled Kent County High School Culinary Arts students while seasonal music selections are performed by our talented KCHS Jazz Band and Chorus students. Purchase your tickets early, seating is limited! Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children under the age of 12.  Tickets can be picked up at the door the evening of the event. Please R.S.V.P. to Marlayn at

S.O.S. Comes to Rescue Kent County Public Schools with Jodi Bortz


While there has always been a history of community activism and concern about the Kent County Public Schools including such groups as the PTA and those trying to fight off school consolidation a few years ago, the recent emergence of S.O.S., a.k.a. Support Our Schools is entirely different in many ways.

This small, informal friends group that grew out of parental concern about the financial capacity of the KCPS system has now emerged as a real force in holding elected officials accountable for the votes they cast, or don’t, to subsidize Kent County public schools beyond the mandatory “maintenance of effort” budget requirements set by the State of Maryland.

S.O.S. also represents a new era of local leadership. A new generation of young parents, well-versed in business management, social media, and marketing, have come to the fold to fight these battles.

One of those new leaders is Jodi Bortz, the owner of Blue Canary Letterpress, the mother of two KCPS children, and a graduate of Kent County High School. The Spy talked to her at Spy HQ last week to talk about the S.O.S.mission and its concern of the long-term sustainability of its public school system.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about S.O.S. please go here

Noted Author Will Highlight One School/One Book Program in Kent County Public Schools


Wil Haygood – author of Tigerland: 1968-1969

Wil Haygood’s new book Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing, which will be released September 15 but is already receiving glowing reviews, will be the centerpiece of a Kent County Public Schools program this fall. The program—One School/One Book—seeks to provide every student in grades 8 through 12 with a personal copy to read in advance of meeting with the author. Haygood, who finished the book as a writing fellow at Washington College, will participate in Meet the Author events at the Kent County middle and high school on November 14th, meeting with both students and staff. He will also participate in an event that evening open to the entire community.

The book is especially relevant and inspirational for secondary school students, because it tells the true story of a segregated black high school in Columbus, Ohio, during the heights of the 1960’s civil rights movement. Against all odds, in a single year the school produced state championship teams (the Tigers) in both basketball and baseball as well as a highly acclaimed debate team. The book describes that effort in exciting detail, including profiling the coaches, teachers, and school principal who helped make it possible and Eddie “Rat” Ratleff, the star of both winning teams, who would go on to play for the 1972 U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Haygood is a cultural historian and an award-winning author of seven nonfiction books, including a book that led to the 2013 film The Butler (which he co-produced) about Eugene Allen, the African American butler who served eight U.S. Presidents (from Truman to Reagan) in the White House. Haygood, who grew up in Columbus and remembers watching the events chronicled in Tigerland, has said he is excited to participate in the One School/One Book program here, because he believes there are parallels between Kent County and the story told in the book.

According to KCPS Superintendent Karen Couch, student and community involvement intensify when a whole school reads a book together. Tigerland’s publisher has agreed to make the book available for half price for this program. The school system is seeking donations to raise $10,000 to ensure every child in the relevant grades and each of their teachers receives a copy of the book. Donations can be made to the Kent County Public Schools Special Projects Fund, c/o Chesapeake Charities, 101 Log Canoe Circle, Suite O, Stevensville, MD 21666, or on-line at

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Hard Talk: Residents Press County Commissioners to Increase School Budget


Residents crowded the Kent County Commissioners’ hearing room Tuesday, June 5, to weigh in on the county’s proposed budget. The discussion grew heated as many of the crowd registered their disappointment with the education portion of the budget, which fell short by approximately $600,000 of the school district’s funding requests.

The above video contains most of the public comments made by audience members after the budget presentation.  Each person wanting to speak had to sign up at the beginning of the meeting.  Each was limited to three minutes and a loud buzzer indicated when the three minutes had expired.  Speakers were held fairly strictly to the limit.

The budget portion of the meeting began with Pat Merritt, the county’s chief financial officer, giving an overview of the budget’s provisions. With help of a PowerPoint presentation. Merritt showed that 65 percent of the county’s revenue, nearly $31 million, derives from property taxes. Another 28 percent, or nearly $13 million, comes from income tax. With over 93 percent of the revenues tax-based, Merritt said, the only way to increase revenue is to raise taxes.

Merritt went on to say that Kent County’s property tax rate, at $1.022 per $100 assessed value, is second highest on the Shore and seventh in the state. The income tax, at 2.85 percent, is fifth highest on the Shore and 16th in the state. Raising the income tax rate to the maximum allowed by law would produce another $3.3 million, she said. Meanwhile, growth over the last five years has been essentially flat, with property tax revenues up by some $700,000 and income tax down by roughly the same amount.

In response to the flat revenues, the county has taken steps to reduce its expenditure, including retiring $21.5 million in debt, roughly 52 percent of the total owed. It has also reduced its insurance costs by joining the Local Government Insurance Trust, and it plans to reduce vehicle costs by moving to a lease plan instead of owning its vehicles outright – a plan that will also reduce the age of the county’s fleet, Merritt said. Several departments have undergone cuts, including a $238,000 cut for county roads, $215,000 cut for parks and recreation, and nearly $100,000 less for information systems, and a number of positions have been cut. In addition to these steps, the county has taken important steps to encourage economic development, which in the long run will add to its tax base.

Addressing specific portions of the budget, Merritt paid particular attention to the allocations for education. The county allocates 38 percent of its budget to the school system, compared to 45.6 percent statewide. The FY 2019 budget for education, at $17,194,263, represents an increase of $228,000 over FY 2018 and is $303,000 over the maintenance of effort standard required by law. Over the last 10 years, the county has spent $2.2 million more than maintenance of effort, while the student population has declined by 216 and there are three fewer schools, she said.

Pat Merritt, the county’s chief financial officer, presented an overview of the proposed FY 2019 Budget for Kent County

The school district’s fund balance – in essence, a sort of “rainy day fund” – has been cut back over the last few years, and a further reduction of $695,000 is scheduled for this year, Merritt said. That would leave the schools with $605,000, which is more than $100,000 above a target amount set by the county for the fund balance. The commissioners argued that no other county department maintains a fund balance. They said that with the increase of $228,000 over the FY 2018 budget, the schools will receive more than $900,000 more than last year. In addition, a request for $423,000 for capital projects was fully funded, Merritt said.

In summary, Merritt said, the FY 2019 budget focuses on economic development, increases the operating funding for the schools, fully funds the schools’ capital projects, and provides resources for reducing ambulance transportation costs in the county.

Kent County Commissioners in session Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Following Merritt’s presentation, the commissioners opened the floor to public comment. First to speak was Dr. Karen Couch, superintendent of education for the county. She began by thanking the commissioners for their support of programs including laptops for all students, building repairs, and refurbishing the football field at Kent County High School. The FY 2019 budget presented by the school district was well-thought-out, she said. However, while the district has “made great strides” in addressing salary inequities, it needs more to become competitive and retain staff. Teacher salaries rank 22nd in the state, and administrator salaries are 24 – “dead last.” With shortages of teachers and administrators, the district is at a disadvantage in competing with neighboring counties.

The maintenance of effort standard was created to assure continuity from one year to the next, not as a ceiling, she said, and it does not address inflation, rising costs, or new programs. Combined with declining enrollment, it becomes “a prescription for disaster,” she said. She said the system has reduced positions in order to maintain salary and benefits for its staff. But the county ranks last in the state in per-capita expenditure per student, and keeping the schools on their path to excellence requires continued investment. In closing, Couch said that the schools must be considered an investment, not an expense, to the county’s budget.

Kurt Landgraf, president of Washington College; and Karen Couch, Superintendent of Kent County Schools.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Washington College President Kurt Landgraf said that looking at maintenance of effort in an environment of declining enrollment would put the county in a downward spiral, losing teachers and undercutting the economic base. He said the college was finding it increasingly difficult to attract faculty and staff to come live in the county. He said that Couch’s request for an additional $500,000 was well thought through, and would increase both the schools’ viability and the ability to attract more people to the county.

Rebecca Heriz-Smith, parent and member of SOS (Save Our Schools)      Photo by Jane Jewell

Rebecca Heriz-Smith was one of several members of the Support Our Schools (SOS) coalition to address the meeting. She noted that the education budget includes an increase of $15,000 to Chesapeake College, while the amount actually going to the county’s public schools is $13,000 less than last year, and $636,000 less than was actually requested. She said it is becoming clear that social workers and counselors are needed in schools all across the country. She said the district had already cut needed programs as well as both teaching and staff positions and would now be forced to cut more under the current budget. She said she was going to vote against the incumbent commissioners in the fall election and would urge her friends and neighbors to do the same.

Jim Luff, former chairman of the county’s economic development commission, said the commission had recommended supporting Kent Forward in its goals to make the school system one of the top five in the state, and that the county’s comprehensive plan said that county should strive to have the best school system in the state. He noted the many stories about families not wanting to move to the county because of the schools and made the link between economic development and the quality of the schools. While the commissioners frequently expressed their support for the schools during their meetings, Luff said the budget actually showed “an erosion of that support.” He said the county needs to find a solution to the problem, noting how residents have come together on the hospital and bridge issues. “We cannot afford to lose one more family,” he said in conclusion.

Deryn Tilghman, a Garnett Elementary School Parent, spoke of volunteering with a third-grade class her child is in. She said her family moved here a year ago, despite being told by colleagues at Washington College that the schools had a poor reputation. She said the family was proud to be part of the public school system, and had given many hours of volunteer work worth thousands of dollars. ‘We decided to see for ourselves, and I’m so glad we were lucky enough to meet some incredibly smart, passionate people on our very first visit to our public school.” She said they saw a lot of potential in the schools, but “potential won’t do.” She said she had hoped to see an indication of support, but “I just keep hearing adversity.” She expressed hope that the commissioners would live up to some of the ideas expressed at the meeting, going for collaboration rather than bemoaning expenses. “It’s the only way we can live up to some of this potential,” she said.

Gina Jachimowicz
Director of Teaching and Learning for Kent County Public Schools

Nathan Stroyer









Nathan Shroyer of Quaker Neck told of having two properties he bought to create affordable housing, one on High Street and one in Church Hill. He said that when he put them on the market, the one in Church Hill received more than 20 responses, most of them from Kent County parents looking to establish a Queen Anne’s base so their students could qualify for that county’s schools. There were no responses for the High Street property in Chestertown. He said several of the parents spoke of racial tensions in the Kent County schools they hoped to avoid in Queen Anne’s.

Another speaker, Tim O’Brien, said there are several property owners who are regularly delinquent in paying their property taxes, many of whom own a large number of properties through shell corporations and now owed cumulative taxes of $100,00 or more for several years. He said the county needs to enforce and penalize these owners so it can collect its full share of taxes.  The commissioners did respond to this by pointing out that legally they cannot just take over private property.  There are strict rules to follow.  When most of these properties became eligible to go up for auction due to unpaid taxes, no one bid on the properties.  Any bidder must pay the back taxes before they can take title to the property.  The properties in question tended to be empty lots or properties in areas that were not very commercially valuable.  Thus the county has trouble recouping the unpaid taxes by selling these properties at auction.

Tim O’Brien spoke about unpaid property taxes – the tax that schools depend upon for their revenue.

Francois Sullivan, parent and member of SOS (Save Our Schools)      Photo by Jane Jewell









Also speaking for the SOS group were Francoise Sullivan, Jodi Bortz, and Robbi Behr. While they emphasized different points, they all said the proposed budget was inadequate to the schools’ needs. And they repeated Herz-Smith’s warning that residents unhappy with the budget’s allocation for the schools would be watching the commissioners and basing their votes on how they responded to the schools’ financial needs.  Some spoke angrily of feeling misled and betrayed by promises of support from the commissioners that never materialized. Several said that they believed that the commissioners were not doing their jobs as they were elected to do.

All told, nearly twenty residents spoke at the public hearing, all but a few addressing the school portion of the budget. At the end, the commissioners had several comments in response. Commission President William Pickrum said that the budget is “a zero-sum game,” with every increase for one department or program making it necessary to make cuts somewhere else. “Every agency and department wants more,” he said. He said the county has 20,000 residents, only 2,000 of whom are students in the schools, and the budget must address the needs of the whole county. He noted that senior citizens make up a large proportion of the county’s population and that health care and transportation remain crying needs in the county. He said the commissioners had spent a lot of time and energy on the budget, that they didn’t always agree, but they still needed to make the hard decisions. Pickrum also spoke about the need for everyone to keep the discussion civil and to remember that we can disagree without being disagreeable.  He feared that the animosity and harsh language would prevent compromise and solutions from being found.  Several of the audience members who spoke also expressed the desire for those involved to sit down together and try to find mutually acceptable answers to the problems the county and the schools are facing.

Commissioners Ron Fithian and Billy Short also commented. Both referred to posts on social media attacking the commissioners, some of which they said were not only abusive but indecent. Short gave Sullivan a printout of some posts, which she agreed used language that was not acceptable. Short said he stands by the budget as written, and does not intend to make any changes.  Fithian emphasized again that the school system had the large fund balance that they could use for whatever purpose they chose.  He noted that in fall 2017, the schools, in order to save money, had chosen to contract a Baltimore-based company for bus service.  When that didn’t work out, he said, the schools suddenly found the money to buy brand new buses.  They worked with that year’s budget appropriation plus the fund balance to pay for the new buses.  Fithian stressed that the county does not tell the school system how to spend the allocated money or the fund balance.

Following the various speakers, a general discussion developed between the audience and the commissioners with quite a few people speaking passionately about the issue.  The discussion became rather heated points and four or five people made a point of shouting their disapproval and finally walking out in protest.

Kris Hemstetter, principal of Rock Hall Elementary School, gave an impassioned account of almost daily crisis in the schools.

At the very end of the meeting, Kris Hemstetter, principal of Rock Hall Elementary School, gave an impassioned account of the need for social workers in the schools. She told of a student who was “throwing chairs” while the social worker assigned to the school was working at another school, of a room without air conditioning, of having to drive students home to get medication. She urged the commissioners to come spend time in the schools to see “the struggles teachers and students are going through,” to see how hard teachers work and to let students and parents tell them what they need.  She emphasized that there is crisis in the schools on virtually a daily basis.

The commissioners will vote on the budget at their next meeting, June 12. Written comments on the budget will be accepted at the county office, 200 High St., until noon Friday, June 8.


Just In: Kent County High Listed as One of Maryland’s Best Schools


Kent County High has just being recognized as one of the best high schools in Maryland. The 2018 National Rankings earned Kent County High School a bronze medal.

Schools are ranked based on their performance on state-required tests and how well they prepare students for college. Read more about how the Best High Schools are ranked here.

Ranked as the 49th Best High School in Maryland and Recognized in National Rankings, higher than all Eastern Shore school’s other than North Caroline High, Snow Hill High and Stephen Decataur High.

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