Education commissioner: Fleming school district will have insufficient funds for high school

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comApril 16, 2014 

The troubled Fleming County school district likely won't have money to properly fund its high school because it hasn't followed Kentucky Department of Education recommendations, Commissioner Terry Holliday said in a sharply worded letter.

"Because many of our recommended actions have not been fully embraced or executed by the district, it is now anticipated that the district will have insufficient funds to provide to the high school ... to meet all of the programmatic needs at that school," Holliday wrote to Superintendent Tom Price.

Since fall 2013, Fleming County has been one of two districts in Kentucky designated as being state-assisted, meaning the state education department is helping district officials, including the local school board, implement a plan to correct deficiencies uncovered in a 2013 department management audit.

That audit said Price had been challenged with overcoming the district's financial problems, which existed when he took the job on July 30, 2012.

In Tuesday's letter, obtained by the Herald-Leader, Holliday told Price that a state education official would have to make plans for staffing reductions at Fleming County High School to meet the anticipated budget cut.

"While my designee is working in consultation with you to ensure the anticipated staffing reductions are the best decisions for the student body and the community at-large, this is a situation which could have and should have been avoided by you and your board over the past year in developing a fiscally responsible staffing formula and a sound plan for moving forward," the letter said.

Holliday said Wednesday he did not have a comment beyond the letter.

In response, Price said he understood Holliday's concerns and that the state department had been helpful to the district, which has about 2,300 students. Price said he thought the district would ultimately be able to adequately fund programs at the high school.

"We are in the middle right now of scrutinizing every expenditure in the school district," he said. "Our main goal is to make cuts that have the least harmful effect for our students and their educations."

Price said he thought about $500,000 needed to be cut from the district's $12.5 million annual budget.

A Fleming County school board meeting was planned Wednesday night for citizens to ask questions about the cuts.

Price said people in Fleming County, where farming is a major industry, are concerned that cuts might be made to agriculture teaching positions in the career and technical program.

In November, Hiren Desai, associate commissioner for administration and support at the Kentucky Department of Education, said a school district has to have 2 percent of its operating budget in reserve. Fleming County should have had about $315,000 in its checking account as of June 30, 2013, but according to an unaudited fund-balance report, the district had $134,000.

On Wednesday, department spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said officials are waiting for audited fund balance reports to have a full picture of Fleming County's current situation.

Holliday told Price in the letter that he and the board should make the community aware that the district is facing a dire financial outlook for the upcoming year and of "the likelihood that painful decisions will have to be made and popular programs may be affected due to financial problems in the district."

In addition to the financial oversight, Holliday's letter said that in 2012, school and district leadership deficiencies resulted in the designation of Fleming County High School as a "persistently low achieving" school and that the department was also overseeing the academic problems.

Meanwhile, Holliday said in the letter that if the district had a "continued and repeated failure" to act in a fiscally sound manner, he could recommend to the state education board that Fleming County schools be managed by the state.

If a district is designated as state-managed, then all aspects of management formerly exercised by a local school board and superintendent are transferred to the commissioner or a state-appointed manager.

Breathitt County is the only district in Kentucky under state management. State management of Breathitt will continue through at least December 2015, when the state board will reevaluate, Rodriguez said Wednesday.

The Robertson County school district also is in state assistance.

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

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