School cuts felt locally

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By Bryan Marshall

Financially strapped school districts across the state may soon take another hit in state funding.

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jon Draud recently sent an e-mail to all state superintendents notifying them that the Office of the State Budget Director wants the Kentucky Department of Education to submit a plan for a 4-percent funding cut across the board.

The cut would reduce the state budget for primary-12th grade education by approximately $132 million, Draud wrote.

Draud asked the superintendents to analyze the specific impact of a 4-percent cut to Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK), the state education funding formula, and all other state grant programs, including preschool, Extended School Services, professional development, family resource centers, gifted education, professional development, Safe Schools and textbooks, as part of KDE’s plan “to emphasize the seriousness of this situation.”

“In this extraordinary time of economic downturn, we must pull together for the benefit of the children of our state to minimize the negative impact on education,” Draud wrote. “The information I am requesting is vitally important to illustrate the devastating effect this cut would have.”

Grant County Schools Superintendent Michael Hibbett said a 4-percent cut in the SEEK formula would “cause us to regroup.”

“I think it’s a mistake by the Department of Education to take back 4 percent,” he said. “It has a devastating effect on our plan to move into the top 20 school districts in the state.”

If the cuts become a reality, Grant County Schools would lose almost $650,000 in SEEK funds and nearly $22,000 in state grants.

“The problem is that we have all of our teachers and all our classified employees under contract,” Hibbett said. “If they cut the SEEK formula, which pays their salaries, then I have to use contingency or make other cuts in the budget to balance that out to finish out the year. That immediately puts me at a severe disadvantage when I put the budget together for next year, which is what we’re in the process of now.”

The district told KDE that spending in all areas not committed to salary, including supplies, repair parts and professional development, would be frozen if the money was cut.

Since the contingency fund would be reduced after the cuts were absorbed, additional cuts, including staffing, also would have to be made in the 2010 budget.

“Staffing allocations would have to be increased which will result in teachers and classified staff being laid off,” the district wrote in their response to KDE. “Depending on the amount of the decrease in our beginning balance and if the district is still mandated to give a raise to staff this would mean cuts in personnel both at the school and district levels.”

For Williamstown Independent Schools, the 4-percent cut would eliminate $150,830 in SEEK money.

“In my 14-year career, there was only one other time that we had what was called an adjustment to the appropriation under the SEEK formula,” said Williamstown Independent Superintendent Charles Ed Wilson. “That was under the (Gov. Paul) Patton administration because of an economic downturn then.”

“When you take that kind of money out of any district, it’s a huge negative impact on instruction,” he said.

Wilson said all expenditures would be reviewed, but the majority of the cuts would be absorbed through the district’s contingency fund.

However, any cuts this year also will affect next year’s budget, he said.

The 4-percent cuts also would take away an additional $20,360 in state grants from the district.

“Over $3,000 would come out the Family Resource Center, almost $14,000 would come out of the preschool program and over $1,000 would come out of textbooks,” Wilson said. “The rest of it would come out of other areas in smaller amounts.”

State superintendents now must wait until an official decision is made about the cuts.

“If we’re directed to do it, we’re going to have to do it and we’ll comply,” Wilson said.