Fayette superintendent sends letter to principals, plans to discuss staffing, programs April 9

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMarch 31, 2014 

Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton sent an email last week to school principals that said he hoped to shed some light on proposed budget cuts at a district leadership meeting April 9.

Shelton said he sent the letter, dated March 26,"to keep open lines of communication throughout the budget development process."

During an interview, he said that as a result of trimming the budget, the district would not be making any staffing cuts in gifted and talented programs and in programs for students learning English.

He said staffing for band and orchestra had not been finalized but should be after it is reviewed "as compared to other school staffing."

The superintendent has said previously that with 88 percent of the district's general fund spent on staffing, it's likely that staffing will be affected when the $433.1 million general fund budget is trimmed by 5 percent. But he has said he hoped the lost positions could be handled through attrition.

Shelton said in the March 26 email that the decision the General Assembly makes about any mandatory teacher raises would directly affect the district's budget because it would be more costly, and Fayette County doesn't get as much money per pupil from the state as other districts.

On Monday, lawmakers from both chambers approved a two-year state budget that requires teacher pay raises of 1 percent in 2015 and 2 percent in 2016. It was not immediately clear how that would affect Fayette County.

Concerns surfaced last month about how staffing cuts might affect school programs, including band and orchestra, gifted and talented and English-language learning.

Shelton, who has said the programs are not in danger of being eliminated, told the Herald-Leader on Monday that he would be sharing information with principals "in order to get their feedback on possible scenarios, and we will not be able to discuss specifics until we have completed that process."

Last month, Shelton sent principals draft numbers for staff positions they will have next year. Schools were shown what the worst-case scenario — a 5 percent cut — would look like. Principals and the schools' site-based councils determine how to use the positions while the district continues working on the final numbers. Shelton had said administrators would get a revised allocation no later than May 1. Administrators then adjust their staffing plans based on new allocations. The budget is approved May 19 and takes effect July 1. Shelton said principals should plan for a 3 percent to 5 percent reduction.

In his email, Shelton apologized to principals, saying "it has been such an unusual year and such an extremely difficult one for you as we face budget and staffing reductions."

"While there are elements that are clearly beyond our control, we regret that you have, in many ways, been caught in the middle of the turmoil," he said.

Ultimately, Shelton said, Fayette County needs to develop a new approach to staffing that will enable the district to live within its means and have an equitable distribution of staff.

The superintendent said that "after we have gotten through this tumultuous season," a staffing task force will be convened to work on policies that will move the district "beyond the blunt cut that we ended up with this year."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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