Schools consider cuts while waiting on state budget

Spencer County Public Schools plan to reduce work days for many employees next school year — including Superintendent Chuck Adams — because of financial uncertainties stemming from the General Assembly's failure to approve a state budget.

"I put myself on the list," said Adams, who figures he'll lose about $2,500 in pay. "I just don't think you do something like this without having it take place at the highest level first."

Fayette County Schools officials plan to recommend that the county school board eliminate two staff development and records days next year because of the same state budget puzzle.

The cuts would hit about 3,000 district employees, mostly teachers, who could lose $500 to $600 each, officials say. However, the loss could be offset for many if the school board approves a planned salary increase, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said.

A variety of cuts are being discussed in almost every Kentucky school district, as school boards scramble to fill financial holes until the budgetary picture in Frankfort clears up. Until it does, schools won't know how much state support they'll be getting.

"Everybody's in the same boat. We don't have answers; we're just sitting here guessing," said Mike Howard, assistant superintendent of the Harlan County Public Schools, which recently told many of its employees to expect sharp reductions in work days next year.

Gov. Steve Beshear has said he will call a special legislative session to consider the state budget later this month, but he has yet to issue a call. It's generally expected that the session won't happen until after the May 18 primary.

School districts, however, are bumping up against a deadline in the form of state law that requires them to notify most of their employees by about May 15 — or 90 days before school starts in the fall — whether they will have jobs next school year. So, many districts are having to reduce work days or cut positions now as a contingency, hoping they'll be able to recall people laid off once a state budget is adopted.

Kentucky schools have been through this before — the legislature has adjourned three times in the last 10 years without adopting a budget. But it's more complicated this year, says Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.

One reason is the number of instructional days to be provided. The House's budget proposal cuts instruction from 177 days to 175. The Senate version provides a full 177 days, but might require local school districts to fund at least one of those days themselves.

Fayette County plans to fund the days, assuming the local school board approves it, Deffendall said.

"The kicker this year is having no idea whether SEEK (the basic school funding formula) will be cut; having no idea whether two days of instruction will be cut; and having no idea whether the legislature will say we're keeping the two days but we're going to make you pay for it," Hughes said.

As districts across the state consider a wide variety of methods to save money, it means plenty of stress for employees, Hughes said.

Franklin County Schools spokesman Wayne Dominick says that as of now all teachers in the district, along with administrators, stand to lose two days of work next year unless lawmakers approve a budget soon.

"It's not a pretty sight," Dominick said. "If they (legislators) just do something where we knew where we stood. We're past the point of what we want them do, we're at the point of just do something."