‘Misleading and untrue.’ Superintendent responds to Bevin’s ‘sucking up’ dollars criticism.

Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk.
Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk. File

The superintendents of Fayette and Jefferson County are taking issue with criticisms that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin made during his budget address that too many of those districts’ employees who aren’t teaching students are “sucking up” education dollars.

“The narrative the governor attempted to spin about the Fayette County Public Schools in his budget address is factually misleading and untrue. His statements implied that our district is laden with administrative bloat and cash reserves, when the very numbers he used reveal a different story,” Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk said Wednesday.

In his speech Tuesday night, Bevin said school districts would have to cut administrative overhead. House Bill 200, the executive branch budget bill, includes a 12 percent cut to school district’s administrative costs in 2018-19 and again in 2019-20.

“Look at our two largest school systems, Jefferson County and Fayette County,” Bevin said. “ Jefferson County ... more than 600 administrators making $100,000 a year or more. That’s more than 60 million dollars, conservatively. Six hundred people making $100,000 a year or more who don’t touch your students, who don’t teach in the classroom, administrative overhead. That’s where the cuts are going to come from. In Fayette County, well over 120 that are in a similar category. The bottom line is that we have far too many people that are not teaching our students that are sucking up the dollars ... that you all budget for our students. That is going to change.”

In response, Caulk said of the 114 current Fayette County employees — not 120 as Bevin said — with salaries more than $100,000, “63 individuals work in our schools and directly impact students on a daily basis. Of the 51 with district-level positions, 22 hold instructional roles that place them out in our schools routinely working alongside teachers, counselors and principals to support classroom teaching and learning, and the other 29 provide critical districtwide operational support.”

To further place that figure in context, Caulk said, only 1.9 percent of the district’s 5,944 full-time permanent employees earn more than $100,000, and only 4.1 percent of the district’s spending on employee salaries goes to pay those making more than $100,000.

“The governor also suggested that districts are sitting on unreasonable reserves, when in fact Fayette County Public Schools has already reduced the contingency fund this year to intentionally place greater resources in our schools, including more teachers for our most vulnerable children, professional learning for our teachers, and textbooks for all students,” Caulk said. “Continuing to drain that account is neither a short- nor long-term solution.”

He said Fayette County’s contingency fund is $31.5 million, which is 6.4 percent of the total operating budget. The Kentucky Department of Education recommends that school districts Fayette’s size hold between 6 percent and 8 percent. To put that in terms of a household budget, he said, the district’s contingency fund would cover a little less than one month’s operating expenses.

“The governor speaks of investing in the future of our children while the collective impact of his budget proposal continues to disinvest in public education and moves the commonwealth further from its constitutional mandate to providing an equitable and adequate education for all students,” Caulk said.

Bevin said the main funding formula for K-12 would stay the same. But Caulk said that to continue to fund the SEEK formula “at the same levels we’ve seen since 2015 is to continue to underfund our classrooms. The fact remains that SEEK funding still hasn’t bounced back from pre-recession levels. Transportation funding flows through SEEK, meaning the cumulative impact of the proposed transportation cuts equates to a $211-per-pupil cut to SEEK.”

Caulk said the proposed cut of 62 percent to state transportation funding, which had already been inadequate, will cost Fayette County roughly $6.5 million. The elimination of professional development, community education and textbook funding will be an additional $1.7 million decrease. The 6.25 percent cuts to state grants including Family Resource and Youth Service Centers and preschool amount to a reduction of an additional $900,000. “Although we have yet to see concrete proposals to let us gauge the district’s increased costs for employee health insurance or shoring up the pension system, preliminary estimates suggest those figures will be greater than $8 million,” Caulk said.

“Although Governor Bevin took aim at us as one of the state’s two largest school districts in his comments last night,” Caulk said, “this is not about Fayette County. This is about every child in the Commonwealth and whether we have the collective will to ensure that our children’s future is brighter than our present. At a time when districts across Kentucky are trying to close the achievement gap, the education cuts proposed, along with the lack of strategic investments, will leave children living in poverty, children of color, children learning English as a second language, and children with special needs further behind,” Caulk said.

Gov. Matt Bevin told lawmakers on Jan. 16, 2018, that school districts in Kentucky, and especially in Louisville and Lexington, need to cut administrative overhead.

“The number of children living in poverty and experiencing trauma in our state is at record highs and the impact of the governor’s proposed budget would be to make the American Dream even more elusive for them,” Caulk said.

Caulk said he stands ready to work with elected officials to tackle tax reform, budget deficits and the pension crisis in a comprehensive way that puts Kentucky education back on track.

Jefferson County Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio also expressed concerns about Bevin’s remarks. Pollio said one of his top priorities has been returning funds to schools and classrooms where they can have the most direct impact on “ increasing student learning.”

“I am concerned that last night’s proposals could significantly impact our progress,” Pollio said. “As we’ve been reviewing administrative costs and returning more dollars to schools, I know as a former principal how important it is to have quality administrators supporting our students. Of the employees recently referenced, 63 percent of those work in our schools with students full-time. They are principals, assistant principals, counselors, school psychologists and nurses who interact with students every day.”

The proposals mentioned Tuesday night would cut at least $25 million from the Jefferson’s district’s budget, which is in addition to the $17 million in new pension plan costs, Pollio said.

Bevin said that Kentucky’s public schools had millions in reserves.

Jefferson County officials said the district’s reserve fund balance is $153 million, $23 million of which is already assigned for expenditures. The balance is just below the nationally recognized recommended level for a district of its size and budget, they said. A lower reserve fund affects bonding capacity and credit rating, which affects the district’s ability to renovate and build schools.

Officials said Jefferson County administrators are at or below the salary levels for peer districts of similar size across the country, including Charlotte, San Diego, Baltimore and Austin, and that salary percentages are in line with other large districts in Kentucky.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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