The path to a budget for the Fayette County Public Schools has been unusually bumpy, and the turbulence hasn't ended. But the ride offers a few lessons:
■ No school cuts are painless, especially in Lexington which is passionate about education.
■ Comb through a $428 million budget and you will find inefficiencies and inequities — so much so that the district expects to achieve $17.5 million in cuts without laying off tenured personnel.
■ As painful and still confusing as this process has been, it has created an opportunity: The public is engaged in a way it seldom is — deep in the details of the FCPS budget, an eye-glazing document that has profound power over the futures of 40,000 youngsters and this city.
What's valuable? What's expendable? How do we wring more value from existing resources? Smart answers to these questions can make schools more effective, narrow achievement gaps, send out graduates better prepared, and make Lexington a more prosperous place.
To take advantage of this opportunity, Superintendent Tom Shelton and the board will have to commit to transparency and keep the public engagement going.
That will require clearing the cloud cast by Budget Director Julane Mullins' allegations that an accounting "irregularity" helped create a $20 million crisis. Shelton, the district's independent auditor and others insist that Mullins is mistaken.
State Auditor Adam Edelen is looking into the claim, along with, we hope, Mullins' other allegations of mismanagement. The state auditor's conclusions should carry a lot of weight.
Meanwhile, the budget that was approved 4-1 last week shows that Shelton and the board listened to the concerns of parents and educators.
After fumbling in February, when first announcing the need for almost $20 million in cuts, Shelton rebounded. He invited the public into the process, hosting forums at schools around the city where parents, educators and others were asked for their input.
In the end, the cuts were less and more narrow than first proposed.
That's not to say they won't be painful. Especially worrisome is the loss of 97 of the 335 paraeducators, the untenured aides who are there for students and teachers in special-education classrooms.
One of the efficiencies to be achieved in special education is welcome: a consolidation of positions that will streamline and shorten the process for diagnosing learning and behavioral disabilities. Also, the board approved adding seven special education teachers.
But parents of disabled children make a good point when they say the cuts in paraeducators should wait until the promised plan for meeting each child's needs is in place.
Shelton wisely recommended, and the board approved, earmarking $2 million in budget reserves for responding as special education needs are recognized during the upcoming school year.
But school officials should work quickly and in good faith with parents on the special education plan.
While cuts of $17.5 million will achieve some efficiencies, inequities get less attention and are harder to correct.
Parents who are working two jobs to make ends meet, are struggling with dysfunction and addiction, or who were failed by the Fayette schools themselves don't form booster clubs or take the mic at school board meetings.
As this budget is tweaked, as budgets always are, and as emotions run high over the upcoming redistricting, as they always do, let's remember that children who lack loud advocates are just as important to our city's future as those who are lucky enough to have them.