ROCK HALL — School systems in Maryland face two key deadlines come the end of September: the final enrollment tally for students and submission of an audit for the previous year’s financial reporting.

Both were presented to the Kent County Board of Education Monday, Oct. 12. Enrollment numbers were down, while auditors voiced no concerns about the school system’s financial reporting.

The Sept. 30 student enrollment count is important because that is the yardstick used in determining Kent County Public Schools funding for the next year. With the majority of funding is allocated on a per-pupil rate, the more students a school system has, the greater the total funding it receives.

Meanwhile, KCPS has a long history of declining enrollment trends, continued this year in the Sept. 30 count and cited in the financial audit report.

“The most significant factors influencing the Board’s future are declining student enrollment trends and its impact on future funding,” the audit report states.

Board President Joe Goetz echoed that, saying enrollment is a constant issue.

“It’s always going to be there as something we have to address,” Goetz said.

The numbers show KCPS has 1,738 total students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade — a drop of 68 from Sept. 30, 2019. Five of those students, based on their status, do not fall into the state’s funding formula, leaving KCPS with an official Sept. 30 enrollment set at 1,733 students.

While KCPS offers universal pre-kindergarten, those students also are not factored into the Sept. 30 enrollment count used in the state’s funding formula.

The elementary schools and the middle school saw enrollment decrease.

Galena Elementary School enrollment last year was 292 students; this year it is 268. Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown had 322 students enrolled last year; this year it has 312. Rock Hall Elementary School went from 198 students last year to 196 this year. In all, elementary schools posted a total drop in enrollment of 36 students.

Kent County Middle School saw a decrease of 42 students, going from 421 last year to 379 this year.

Superintendent Karen Couch said the middle school decrease was expected due to a smaller sixth grade entering this year.

Kent County High School posted an increase in student enrollment of 15, rising from 568 last year to 583 this year.

“We had a large class that left the middle school to go to the high school,” said Tracey Williams, supervisor of secondary education and student services.

The school system saw 89 new students enroll, while 128 exited. In both cases, the highest numbers transferred in or out to other public schools in Maryland or beyond.

Of those exiting KCPS this year, 39 opted for homeschooling.

Couch and Williams said that is the trend throughout the state due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s not a single county that has not seen an increase in the number of students who have gone home school,” Couch told board members.

Board Vice President Trish McGee, who also is associate editor of the Kent County News, voiced concern that that could become a new norm.

In reviewing the school system’s financial reports, Audrey McKendrick of the TGM Group LLC said the audit for the previous year was submitted with a clean opinion by the state’s Sept. 30 deadline.

“There were no issues and everything was as it should be,” McKendrick told board members.

McGee commended KCPS Supervisor of Finance Alleesa Stewart for her work. Stewart was hired in February, and two other predecessors served her position during the fiscal year covered by the audit.

McKendrick said that like other jurisdictions’ finances, COVID-19 meant the school system’s revenue still came in, but some expenses dropped.

The audit report raises the issue of the school system’s reliance on its fund balance — unspent money accumulated over the years — in shoring up its annual budget.

“The use of fund balance, a one-time funding source, to balance the Board’s operating budget creates a long-term sustainability concern. Continuing to use fund balance in this manner presents a future burden for the Board to generate a similar level of funding in subsequent years,” the audit report states.

While the board has a policy to maintain at least $500,000 in the fund balance, McGee said KCPS keeps using fund balance money “to bail us out.”

McKendrick said the fund balance is supposed to grow to support the budget for the following year.

The audit shows the fund balance did increase last year by about $1 million, going from $1.3 million to nearly $2.4 million. The balance sheet, though, shows that of the $2.4 million, just over $1 million is listed as “unassigned.”

“Fortunately for this year, it (the fund balance) went up a little bit because we’re going to have to dig into it big time because our enrollment is plummeting,” McGee said.

The audit report and the enrollment presentation can be found under the Board of Education’s meeting agenda for Oct. 12, posted online at go.boarddocs.com/mabe/kcps/Board.nsf/Public.

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