Kentucky schools cutting 975 jobs

Kentucky schools have eliminated about 975 positions to cope with cuts in the state's two-year budget, according to a state education group.

The Kentucky School Boards Association conducted a survey that found nearly 90 of the state's 174 school districts have cut about 455 certified positions and about 520 classified positions from their payrolls. Teachers are certified staff, and teachers' aides, also known as para-educators, are classified staff.

“The worry is that (layoffs) will be worse in the '09-'10 school year,” said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.

When adjusted for inflation, the state's funding of K-12 education will decline by $172 million this fiscal year and $171 million next year, according to an analysis by the Council for Better Education.

Specifically, the state budget cut about $43 million from education programs, including a $14.7 million reduction in the main funding formula for school districts. Also hard hit were professional development and after-school tutoring programs.

Many school districts were forced to reduce staff because salaries make up the bulk of their budgets, said Jody Maggard, finance officer for Perry County schools in Eastern Kentucky. The district, which has 13 schools and about 4,000 students, did not rehire 48 teachers' aides.

“We regret that we had to do it but just like other districts, it was a ‘have to' situation,” Maggard said. He said the move saved about $500,000 for the district.

In Pulaski County, the budget crunch will mean larger class sizes. Somerset Independent Schools, which has 1,460 students in three schools, cut 16 teachers and district staff. As a result, the average class size will increase from 20 to 28 students, said Superintendent Teresa Wallace.

“We're looking to try to get funding in order to decrease the class size for the next school year,” said Wallace.

School districts that are less reliant on state funding, such as Fayette County, have largely avoided cutting teaching positions.

Many school districts in Kentucky get the majority of their funding from the state budget through the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) formula. But Fayette County, which benefits from relatively high property tax values, gets 70 percent of its funding from local taxes and only 30 percent from SEEK funds.

“There are small rural districts that are fairly stable but then again, there are others that are not,” said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman with the Kentucky Department of Education. “But districts that don't have high property wealth will struggle and struggle more if there are state budget cuts.”