State to cut school funding by $50 million this spring

The Kentucky Department of Education says it will cut basic funding to local school districts by almost $50 million this spring because of an unexpected financial shortfall.

Funding to Fayette County Schools probably will fall by about $1.5 million, according to Superintendent Stu Silberman.

He said Friday that the district can offset the loss by using some of the roughly $4.2 million it is receiving through the federal EduJobs program. But some other districts might not be as fortunate.

Among other things, state education officials blamed the funding problem on an unexpected statewide rise in student enrollment, which raises expenses, and lower-than-forecast property values, which reduce revenue.

The cutbacks will affect the SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) program that provides basic operating money for 174 public school districts. They will occur in April, May and June.

Silberman said he plans to recommend to the Fayette County Board of Education next week that the district "tap into" its EduJobs dollars, and use that money to offset the reduction. Fayette County already has used some EduJobs money to hire high school and middle school academic coaches this year. But Silberman said those jobs won't be threatened at least for now.

"The cutbacks will hit in the spring ... but we have to budget for them now," Silberman said. "Overall, we're going to be OK, but some districts may be in a different situation."

Wilson Sears, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, noted that some districts already had earmarked their EduJobs money for things such as filling positions lost to layoffs, or restoring instructional days lost in earlier reductions.

"Superintendents have already had to tighten their belts," he said. "It's really a devastating blow for a lot of districts, especially districts that have fund balances that are marginal."

Education Department spokeswoman Lisa Gross said unexpectedly higher enrollment numbers across the state accounted for more than $37 million of the shortfall. She said that resulted from about 3,000 new students entering school last year, plus a new, more efficient way of calculating average daily attendance. Average attendance thus rose by about 10,000 more than officials anticipated, she said.

Sears said that a mid-year funding reduction makes it harder for school districts to adjust their budgets.

"You can't cut teachers in the middle of the year, or support personnel for that matter," he said. "No one was really expecting this, I'll put it that way."