Shelton: Fayette schools staffing cut could be only 3 percent, rather than 5 percent

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comApril 8, 2014 

Fayette County schools could see a 3 percent cut in staffing rather than the previously discussed 5 percent reduction, Superintendent Tom Shelton says.

In an email message to the Herald-Leader on Monday, Shelton said he expected to discuss the 3 percent cut with principals at a meeting Wednesday. Under that scenario, the district still would see the $20 million cut that he announced weeks ago, but there would be more cuts "at the district level," cushioning the blow for schools.

"We will not have a final answer for principals on Wednesday," he said.

"We are hoping to minimize the reduction at the school level," he said, "and that could mean a reduction of only 3 percent. But everything is preliminary right now. We want to hear from our front-line leaders before we finalize a recommendation for the board."

In March, when Shelton sent principals draft numbers for staff positions for next year, schools were shown what the worst-case scenario — a 5 percent cut — could look like. Shelton said at the time that principals should plan for a reduction of 3 percent to 5 percent.

Eighty-eight percent of the school district's $433.1 million budget is committed to salaries and benefits for the district's 5,815 employees. Teachers account for 3,000 of those jobs, Shelton has told the Herald-Leader.

He has said that a 5 percent cut would be the equivalent of about 150 teachers, and that the district could reach that number through attrition.

In 2013, for example, 75 teachers retired; 120 resigned.

Later Monday, Shelton sent an email to school board members to inform them of the potential 3 percent cut. He also commented on action taken by the General Assembly to provide funding for a required teacher pay raise of 1 percent in 2015. That means Fayette County schools will not have to make deeper cuts next year as a result of the pay raise.

"In other good news, we have been able to cut deeply enough at the district level that we believe the schools will only need to take a 3 percent reduction in allocated staffing as opposed to the worst-case scenario of 5 percent that we shared with them on March 1," the email said.

He told board members the 3 percent cut probably would mean the loss of 90 teaching positions. He said the district could easily reach figure through attrition, "as we lose many more than this through retirement and resignation."

Meanwhile, the email to board members said they would get a more defined draft budget proposal in a few days. At a district leadership meeting Wednesday, Shelton also will give principals more information.

Board vice chairwoman Melissa Bacon declined to comment on the email, saying, "It would be inappropriate for me to respond until I have a full budget proposal to consider."

Shelton has said that a primary goal is that budget cuts not affect students. He said the budget proposal the board will be asked to approve in May will include decisions that are responsive to input from residents — including parents, staff and students — who have voiced concerns about the $20 million cut. He has said that he will take a pay cut and recommend cutting two teacher work days when students aren't in attendance as part of trimming the budget.

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

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