Budget for Fayette County schools fails to get votes needed for approval

kward1@herald-leader.comMay 19, 2014 

Elementary school orchestra programs would be negatively affected by Fayette County Public Schools proposed budget, board member Amanda Ferguson said. She voted against the measure.


The Fayette County school board failed Monday to pass a $426.9 million budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The board is required by law to adopt a tentative budget by the end of the month.

Board members Doug Barnett and Amanda Ferguson voted against the budget proposed by Superintendent Tom Shelton; Daryl Love and Melissa Bacon voted for it. Chairman John Price was absent.

Barnett said in an impassioned speech that the cuts would have a detrimental effect on "kids with special education and socioeconomic achievement gaps."

"It is time for the board to declare to our teachers and classified staff that they matter. It's time to show our kids what we stand for," he said. "We still have some time to do this right."

Ferguson said band and orchestra programs, mostly at elementary schools, also would be affected negatively.

And she suggested that Shelton had not given a satisfactory reason for why the district ended up needing to make cuts. "We still don't have the full answer," she said.

This year's budget is $433.1 million. Cuts are necessary, Shelton has said, to keep the district from outspending its revenue. As part of developing the budget, Shelton initially proposed $19.1 million in cuts to positions and programs that represent expenditures in the district's general fund — its main spending account.

Parents, teachers, students and others were upset about the cuts, and in response district officials held forums to get feedback. Their suggestions helped generate the budget the board received.

Before the vote, several staff members and parents voiced concerns about the proposed budget.

Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, said she worried about the effect on special education and classified personnel. "They provide the support that the teachers need every day," she said.

Christin Helmuth, parent of a Bryan Station High School student, said the school would be disproportionately affected by the budget as presented. "The whole process has somehow managed to target the neediest kids," she said.

Sharon Mofield-Boswell said she was "uncomfortable" with the amount budgeted for third-party consultants, voicing concern that budget cuts would set a precedent. "What's it going to be in three to five years?" she asked.

Shelton later addressed that, saying such cuts would not be needed again. "We fully believe that the cuts that have been made will restore our financial position," he said.

Several community leaders, including Urban League CEO P.G. Peeples, Commerce Lexington CEO Bob Quick and businessman Mike Scanlon, spoke in support of Shelton and the work done to gather community input.

"I'm very comfortable that we've done the right thing with this process," Peeples said.

Scanlon told the board: "The job you're doing right now is every board member's nightmare. ...You have done as good a job as could possibly be done."

Ferguson took Shelton to task over his initial handling of the situation, saying he should have told the board sooner that cuts were needed. "I don't like being put in this position," she said.

Love, however, said the board had been aware since last spring that changes would be needed.

Shelton said in an interview after the meeting that some of the board's concerns could have been addressed earlier if he had known about them. Shelton presented this version of the budget to the board May 5.

"We certainly could look at making changes to certain areas," he said. "We need to hear that from the board,"

Shelton said a work session would be scheduled, and then another meeting would be needed at which the board could vote. He said he was hopeful an agreement could be reached by May 31.

"I think we all want the same thing," he said. "It's just a matter of how we get there."

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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