Fayette public schools plan to cut family resource center directors' hours

jwarren@herald-leader.comMay 18, 2013 

The Fayette County Public Schools plan to slash work days for 42 directors of the district's family resource centers next year because of continued government funding reductions.

The move comes as many school districts across Kentucky face tough choices brought on by reduced funding from Washington and Frankfort.

Overall, Fayette Schools employees are to get a 1 percent pay increase under a tentative budget that the Fayette County Board of Education will consider Monday night. But resource center workers are paid directly from state grants, and Fayette officials say those grants have been declining for the past few years.

To save money, the district intends to reduce the center directors' work days from 250 to 240 days in 2013-14. That means they will earn less money, and they won't earn vacation days.

Fayette's family resource centers offer a variety of services for needy students and their families, from providing clothing for kids to helping parents do a better job of raising their children.

Superintendent Tom Shelton said the cuts were a tough but necessary step.

"We had to stay within the means of the state grant," Shelton said. "So, we made the decision that a 10-day reduction for everybody was better than having to close a center or reduce individual staff people entirely."

School districts statewide are looking for ways to save money as they plan their budgets for 2013-14 in preparation for what many educators say will be a precarious year for funding.

One big hit is expected to come from the federal budget sequester in Washington, which is expected to reduce federal funding for Kentucky schools by about $31.8 million in the coming fiscal year. (In 2011, Kentucky's preschool through 12th-grade public education received $1.129 billion in federal funding, according to the most recent figure available on the state Department of Education website.) The blow is expected to fall heaviest on Title I programs, which help schools with low-income students and special-education efforts.

Basic state funding for Kentucky schools remains essentially flat, but educators say that enrollment growth means fewer dollars per child are available. In addition, the state has reduced dollars for programs such as preschool and family resource centers.

On top of that, some Kentucky districts might have to cough up large back payments to offset a deficit in a long-running school insurance program.

Kentucky school districts enjoyed some good times during the first Obama administration, which pumped stimulus money and "EduJobs" dollars into education. But those programs are over, and tougher times loom.

For example, the Jefferson County Public Schools laid off 41 teachers last week, citing financial concerns. That's the most layoffs in the district in more than a decade. Jefferson Schools spokesman Ben Jackie said officials still hope to rehire many of the teachers before schools reopen this fall.

This month, state police arrested a McCreary County Schools employee on charges of making threats against the school district after officials revealed plans to lay off almost two dozen teachers and support staffers to save money. Authorities said the man was angry about the reductions, although his own job was not affected.

Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes says school officials appear more worried about finances than at any time in his memory.

"I have seen at least a dozen districts in the last two weeks in which boards adopted budgets that reduced positions," Hughes said. "I've seen a few that actually approved pay raises, but far more that have said they won't have money for pay raises."

According to Hughes, some districts are faring relatively well: those that used up all their federal stimulus dollars and EduJobs and "felt the pain last year," and districts with healthy reserve funds to carry them through.

"But districts that had been funding positions with EduJobs or stimulus dollars, and are having the sequestration on top of that, plus no additional state funds ... those are the ones that are hurting the worst," Hughes said.

Wilson Sears, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, also said educators are wary.

"The sequester will hit schools hard, although we don't have the final figures yet," Sears said. "That will be quite a blow, because it impacts special education and special-needs kids. The second issue is the insurance assessment, which for some districts could be a ton of money."

Shelton said he expects that sequestration will reduce Fayette's federal funding by $1.2 million to $1.3 million next fiscal year. The exact amount probably won't be known until late June, he said. Last fiscal year, the Fayette district received $21.8 million from the federal government. (The district's general fund budget for the next fiscal year will likely be around $323 million.)

Nevertheless, Shelton said Fayette County should fare better than most school districts, mainly because it draws about 75 percent of its money from local taxes and relies less on government support.

"We held back funds in reserve for sequestration, so we did not have any additional reductions because of that," he said.

As a result, the district plans no overall layoffs beyond routine non-renewals that usually occur every year, Shelton said. Typically, district officials pink-slip some people each year, then rehires them when they know how much funding they'll receive for the coming year.

Other adjustments made it possible to recommend a 1 percent pay increase for workers in the tentative budget that the school is to consider Monday night, Shelton said. The district's actual working budget for next year won't be considered until around August.

State funding for the family resource centers has fallen steadily for about the past four years.

The school system received about $2.389 million from the state for salaries and other resource center operating needs as recently as 2009. But district officials expect to get less than $2.355 million by the end of the current fiscal year, and less than that next fiscal year. That decline, combined with pay increases the district has given, meant that salaries were eating up an ever-increasing chunk of annual center funds, district officials said.

Shelton said that reducing work days for center directors will let the program continue to be self-sustaining, and that centers will still be open year-round.

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255.

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