Education

Fayette County might have very little money in the coming year to help struggling schools

Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington.
Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington. Herald-Leader

There could be very little money to help Fayette County's low-performing schools in the tentative 2015-16 budget set for approval by the school board on Tuesday.

Board chairman John Price explained the problem in an interview after a special work session this week.

"There's not any time left or any money left for this upcoming school year," Price said.

For the 2016-17 school year, he said the question would be, "Can we change our staffing ... or some other allocation in order to free up more money?"

In September, when the board approves the final budget for 2015-16, "there may be some more dollars," Price said. "But based on what we know right now, there's not a whole lot."

Board members and district staff have discussed all year ways to help high-poverty, low-achieving schools.

"We know the reality of where our schools are, and we've got to be able to allocate resources where we have some of our greatest needs. That's just being fair to our students," board member Daryl Love said.

Much of Tuesday's budget discussion centered on a complaint NAACP officials have filed with the state Office of Education Accountability.

The complaint involves how the school board allocates what's known as "Section 7" funds that could be used for low-performing schools. Some of those schools also have high numbers of students living in poverty.

The money is referred to as Section 7 because the district's general fund is governed by a state administrative regulation with various sections. After the school board has made allocations for district-wide expenditures, for supplies and equipment, and for Central Office under other sections of the administrative regulation, the board reviews the budget to see whether there is any money left for Section 7.

The Section 7 money may be distributed based on average daily attendance, on pupil needs identified by school councils, and on student needs identified by the board from achievement data in relation to disabled, low-income and minority students.

NAACP Education Committee chairwoman Shambra Mulder told board members Tuesday that schools including William Wells Brown Elementary, which ranked at the bottom of all elementary schools in the state's accountability system in 2013-14 and is a high-poverty school, need extra help.

"Why can't they just get it?" Mulder asked board members.

Acting Superintendent Marlene Helm said it was possible the school board could allocate some federal funding to William Wells Brown.

Kyna Koch, the district's senior director of administrative services, has looked for places to trim spending for 2015-16 so school board members would have more money for low-performing schools.

Board members said there is a balance between letting individual school officials have some autonomy in how they spend money the district gives them to raise student achievement and holding low-performing schools accountable.

Board member Doug Barnett suggested that changes needed to be made at the schools "if they keep doing the same thing and the results stay the same."

Price said the school board previously made some improvements in its student-to-teacher ratio, and that has helped some high-poverty schools.

In Fayette County, for example, the student-to-teacher ratio is 24-to-1 in kindergarten through third grade. In schools in which 75 percent or more of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, the student-to-teacher ratio is 22 students to one teacher.

Helm said she had been visiting low-performing schools in Fayette County, asking what they need.

"Is it extra dollars; is it additional staff?" she said. "Their needs are all over the place."

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