Education

Fayette schools must cut $9 million. How it will approach some 'difficult decisions.'

Dunbar teachers protest education spending

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School teachers and staff members participated in a protest Thursday at several Lexington schools ahead of the General Assembly's consideration of Gov. Matt Bevin's vetoes of education spending and tax bills. Classes have
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Paul Laurence Dunbar High School teachers and staff members participated in a protest Thursday at several Lexington schools ahead of the General Assembly's consideration of Gov. Matt Bevin's vetoes of education spending and tax bills. Classes have

Budget reductions are coming to Fayette County Schools, with a round of public school board meetings being scheduled for May to determine which programs or positions will be cut in the tentative 2018-19 budget.

The final state budget that the House and Senate in the Kentucky General Assembly have agreed on would cut about $9.1 million from the Fayette district’s approximately $500 million budget. School board vice-chairman Ray Daniels, said that is "a dramatic difference" from the nearly $24 million impact that the district would have had under a proposal from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, which Fayette educators protested in Frankfort.

The bottom line, the district's chief financial officer John White told school members at the April 23 monthly meeting, is that the budget situation is "not anything to be really happy about, but it could be a lot worse."

The $9.1 million is equal to about 150 teachers, said district budget director Julane Mullins, but she noted that historically the district loses between 125 and 150 teachers per year to retirement.

The impact on Fayette County Schools includes $5.1 million in cuts in SEEK funding, the state’s main funding formula for public K-12 education. Cuts would strip $900,000 from Fayette County’s preschool services and other state grants. The budget eliminates $1.8 million in funding from Fayette for professional development, instructional materials and support for new teachers. As far as the employer match for the County Employees Retirement System, which covers school district classified employees in addition to city and county workers. the district is looking at just under a $1.4 million increase in those costs next year.

Funding for school Family Resource Centers and Youth Service Centers, which take care of dozens of students' basic needs, remained at current levels for 18-19 which is probably about $2.9 million, officials said.

White said at this point, he didn't think there would be more than a total $9.1 million cut in the Fayette budget . He said a team in the district was working on the issue.

"It will definitely impact how we operate, where those cuts will be we are not sure yet," White said.

Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk told the Herald-Leader that he had no information on possible areas that might be reduced.

District officials must complete a tentative budget for 2018-19 by May 31, and the school board will probably vote at its May 21 regular meeting. Caulk said there will be public school board meetings starting May 7 to decide on "areas for reduction." "We will work ... diligently looking all options," Caulk said at the board meeting.

After the meeting he noted that "difficult decisions" were ahead. "We pride ourselves on having really strong instructional programs. And we are going to make sure that our goal is to protect the classroom, obviously. But we certainly have to look at all areas for the cost-saving measures that we put in place and to look at the reductions that are going to be necessary in order to close this budget gap."

Caulk, in the face of school threats and violence in 2018, has been vocal about budget needs, calling for an investment in school safety and security, for an increase in funds addressing student mental health and for public education to be fully funded.

"We did not get the investment for school safety and security, " or an increase in funds for mental health," Caulk said, "but that doesn't mean that the needs aren't there. Public education in Kentucky is still underfunded, when you adjust for inflation, its still under pre-recession levels."

Aside from the upcoming cuts, said White, the school district is " becoming more efficient with the limited resources that we have."

One example of that is when school board members last Monday set some new staffing guidelines that are at the state maximum levels. Essentially, some classes at Lexington public schools will likely increase in size. Caulk said that many Kentucky school districts are at the state's maximum teacher-student ratio..

For 2018-19, the K-3 student teacher ratio in Fayette remains 24 to 1 and the 4th grade ratio remains at 28 to 1.

The 5th grade teacher student ratio increases from 28 to 1 to 29 to 1.

The sixth grade ratio remains unchanged at 29 to 1; the 7th and 8th grade has increased from 29 to 1 to 31 to 1.

At the high school level, grades 9 to 12 are currently at 30 to 1 and will increase to 31 to 1, Mullins said..

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