Two Fayette school board members say they won't approve a budget that includes band, orchestra cuts

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMay 21, 2014 

  • HIGHLIGHTS

    The proposed reductions include:

    $4.5 million School staff cuts, including 60 full-time certified employees and about 30 classified positions.

    $4.4 million Work calendar reductions, reducing noninstructional days or the number of work days for counselors, social workers, bus drivers and bus monitors.

    $3.5 million District operations such as materials and supplies.

Fayette County School board members Doug Barnett and Amanda Ferguson say they won't vote to approve Fayette County's tentative budget for 2014-15 unless cuts to band and orchestra programs are restored.

In response, Superintendent Tom Shelton said "if the board wants to see those adjustments restored, that is certainly something we can discuss during our next school board meeting."

Barnett and Ferguson voted "no" Monday night when the board failed to approve a $426.9 million budget proposed by Shelton.

Board members Daryl Love and Melissa Bacon voted for it. Chairman John Price was absent. Price has been monitoring meetings from home while he receives treatment for a blood disorder.

However, new developments involving Price could change the vote on the tentative budget.

Shelton said Wednesday that Price will participate in the school board's future budget discussions and decisions via Skype.

"John asked us to look into that, and after investigating his question, we determined that it is legally allowed," said Shelton.

Price did not immediately return telephone calls Wednesday, but after receiving the tentative budget earlier this month, he told the Herald-Leader, "I thought given the financial restraint that we had it was a very good budget."

Also Wednesday, Barnett said he decided to vote against the tentative budget after he got a chance to study the proposed cuts.

"I wasn't aware of the scope of it until I actually got to really sit down and study it," he said.

Additionally, he said band, orchestra and music parents expressed concerns to him after the tentative budget proposal was presented.

"I do not want to see any reductions to band, orchestra or music," he said. "I think reducing these programs will negatively impact those programs not only next year, but also in the future."

Both Barnett and Ferguson face opposition in the November general election, but they deny having a political agenda.

"As long as I feel like I'm doing the right thing, I could care less whether I win an election or not," Barnett said.

Ferguson said she was "absolutely not" trying to "win votes" by voting against the budget.

"Overall, this budget is a disaster," she said.

Under Kentucky law, the board must approve a tentative budget by May 30. As part of the budget planning process, $19.1 million in proposed staffing and program cuts and adjustments were included.

When Shelton announced this year that the district would make reductions, parents, students, teachers and others were most vocal about proposed staffing cuts to districtwide programs such as band and orchestra.

At Monday's board meeting, Shelton said changes to band and orchestra programs ended up being reallocations of existing staff positions based on the number of students that participated at each school. The positions in band and orchestra at some schools went up as part of the proposed 2014-15 budget adjustments and decreased at others, he said.

On Wednesday, Shelton said the proposed budget "included a total reduction of 3.3 positions in the areas of band and orchestra, comprised of only fractional adjustments across our 66 schools and programs."

"The proposed adjustments were primarily accomplished by strategically assigning services to schools in order to reduce travel time," he said.

District officials released a proposal in April that said the cuts would include the elimination of 1.5 full-time positions in orchestra staff districtwide and 1.8 full-time positions in band.

Ferguson said Wednesday that while those numbers appear small, she is concerned that the reductions would lead to "the dilution" of band and orchestra programs in the district, fearing "the erosion of both the quantity and quality of district programs."

"By cutting staff at elementary schools, the 'roots' middle and high school band programs will eventually suffer and lose staff because their student numbers will decrease," Ferguson said.

On another front, Barnett said it also "does not appear that the staffing reductions are equitable, such as the cuts in days to librarians, elementary counselors, social workers and classified staff."

District officials have said they can save $4.4 million by reducing work calendars of employees.

Overall, the proposed cuts call for a reduction of $1.6 million, or about 50 out of 911 positions, from people who work in Central Office, transportation or the district's warehouse. At schools, the budget proposal would call for the elimination of 60 full-time positions from slightly more than 2,000 certified employee positions, which includes principals and teachers. About 30 positions would be cut from the more than 600 classified staff positions, which includes aides and maintenance staff.

In April, district officials said special education will be cut by $2 million. The district will add seven special education teachers but reduce the number of aides by 97. There are 335 special education aides.

Barnett said he "was concerned about the reduction in spending on special education, because that area has some of the highest achievement gaps in the district."

If the district cannot find a way to reduce some of the cuts in the budget, Ferguson said "there at least needs to be a long-term plan to address special education and how we can ensure those students' most critical needs are met.''

Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, a voluntary association that represents teachers, said her group is concerned about the cuts in special education, which "seem disproportionate to the other cuts."

Hiren Desai, associate commissioner for administration and support at the Kentucky Department of Education, said that if the district failed to meet the May 30 deadline, the department would investigate why. The department would work with the district to get a budget in place before the upcoming school year.

Shelton said Tuesday he thought the deadline would be met.

"Our school board members are conscientious public servants who care deeply about our students, our schools and our community," he said. "I have deep respect for each of them as individuals and as a team. I feel confident that we will be able to reach consensus so that we can meet the statutory deadline."

Also, at Monday's school board meeting, Ferguson asked Shelton and other district officials whether the need for the cuts had been caused by an irregularity involving $20 million in the district's budget in 2011. They said no. Shelton repeated what he had said in the past, that the reductions were needed because of district spending "and we were getting to a state of financial crisis."

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

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