‘Infuriating.’ In Lexington, state budget cuts could equal 304 teachers, district says.

Fayette County Public Schools chairwoman Melissa Bacon, left, and Superintendent Manny Caulk at a recent meeting in Lexington.
Fayette County Public Schools chairwoman Melissa Bacon, left, and Superintendent Manny Caulk at a recent meeting in Lexington.

If the Fayette County school district were to lose $18.4 million in budget cuts proposed by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, it would be the equivalent of 304 teachers, board members were told this week.

That amount would also be the equivalent of the operating costs of one middle or one high school or the cost of building an elementary school from the ground up, Budget Director Julane Mullins said at the school board’s regular monthly meeting Monday.

Mullins and Fayette Chief Financial Officer John White talked about the potential impact on the district of the draft budget proposals that have been presented by House and Senate lawmakers in the current General Assembly and by Bevin. There had been no final decisions made yet, and no staffing cuts have been announced. The House and Senate are in negotiations to try to reach agreement on a two-year spending plan for the state.

White described the scenarios as bleak.

“It’s infuriating,” said board chairwoman Melissa Bacon. “I cannot believe they expect us to operate a district on these numbers.”

The governor’s proposed budget would cut about $18.4 million from the district’s approximately $500 million budget.

The House’s proposed budget would cut $4.3 million. The Senate’s proposed budget would cut $13.2 million, officials said.

Cuts in both the governor’s and Senate’s versions would strip $1 million from Fayette County’s preschool services, family resource centers, safe schools and other state grants. All three of the draft budgets eliminate $1.8 million in funding for professional development, instructional materials and support for new teachers , school officials told families in a board meeting summary sent late Monday night.

The governor’s proposed budget also shifts a portion of employer paid health insurance and the Kentucky Teacher Retirement Systems match onto local school districts, which could cost the district approximately $3 million. Other cuts in the Governor's budget include $6.5 million in transportation funding and $6 million in SEEK funding, the state’s main funding formula for public K-12 education, the summary said.

The Senate’s draft budget shifts an even greater portion of the employer paid health insurance and KTRS match onto local school districts, which would mean a $4.5 million cost for Fayette County and includes a $5.9 million cut in SEEK funding for the district.

The SEEK cut for the district in the House version is $2.5 million.

In addition to the cuts included in the three draft budgets, district officials are concerned that there has been no movement on Senate Bill 66, which would cap annual increases in the employer match for the County Employees Retirement System, which covers school district classified employees, in addition to city and county workers. Without that help, officials said, the district is looking at a $5.4 million increase in those costs next year, according to the summary. Bevin told a Kentucky radio station Tuesday that he would not sign the bill.

At the board meeting, Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk encouraged community members, families and students to reach out to lawmakers as public school educators have been doing. He said the cuts could especially affect students learning the English language, disabled students and at-risk students.

“The cumulative impact of these cuts would leave more of our students behind,” Caulk said in the message to families. “Our Senators and Representatives have the capacity to exacerbate or ameliorate the conditions that keep our students from reaching their unlimited potential. We need our lawmakers to fully fund K-12 education, invest in school safety and increase funding for mental health services.”

Board members asked about funding for public charter schools, which could open in Fayette County and other districts by the 2019-20 school year. An estimate of how much funding charter schools would affect Fayette County Public Schools was not included in the budget information presented to the board Monday.

“We have been doing some research to know how much that would impact per student if and when charter schools happen here,” said Mullins, the budget director.

Approved for the first time in Kentucky by the 2017 General Assembly, school boards in the state could soon be receiving applications from people who want to open charter schools. Under both the charter funding mechanism that expires in June and the mechanism recently proposed by the Senate, charter schools would get much the same funding as typical public schools, with some exceptions.

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