LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two top officials met with Jefferson County Public Schools principals on Wednesday about a proposal to change the district's funding formula and how it could impact their schools.
In advance of the meeting, held at the Gheens Academy, principals were emailed a copy of their 2015-16 school staffing budgets (as of Jan. 4) and add-on budgets, as well as a comparison of how JCPS fares when it comes to other Kentucky school districts in per pupil spending and teacher/principal salaries.
JCPS chief business officer Tom Hudson and chief financial officer Cordelia Hardin discussed the district's plan that could potentially increase class sizes in an effort to shift hundreds of teachers into schools that are in need of greater support.
Hudson told WDRB News on Wednesday the district is asking its principals to "let us know" which programs are working and which ones could potentially be eliminated.
"The goal is to have lower class sizes," Hudson said. "We want to put more resources into the classroom. If you don’t want increased class sizes, give us an idea of what else we can cut."
The data given to principals is a "frame of reference of where we are so we can look at how we can adjust to the priorities that have been set by the school board," he said.
Hudson said the district's strategic plan, Vision 2020, "has priorities in it that we are trying to fund" and that this is the "first time we are challenging some things."
The proposal would keep class size funding allocations capped at one teacher per 24 students in grades K-3, but could increase across all other grades:
If the district changes its funding formula, schools and their site-based councils could lose the flexibility to staff classes as they see fit.
"We are redirecting money and priorities," Hudson said. "Some schools may go down, some may go up. The numbers will change, we will find cases where the allocations won’t work."
The same data provided to the district's principals on Wednesday will be presented to the Jefferson County Board of Education during a work session next week Monday, Hudson said.
But the school board will not be asked to approve the district's funding formula proposal until Jan. 26.
Initially, Hudson told the school board that the proposal could potentially shift approximately 280 teachers and mean more students in 4-12th grade classrooms. He said Wednesday "that figure will likely be much lower" but that he and Hardin have not finished crunching numbers.
Each school's 2016-17 budget will be based on the enrollment projections and Hudson said those projections are not complete.
Principals are expected to receive their school's allocation on Feb. 2 and Hudson said they will have until Feb. 17 to alert the district "if they think something is wrong."
"My expectation is that all of February and March will be devoted to budget issues," he said. "We want to get it as right as we can."
Hudson said "in some fashion, we will be giving them less money than they have had in the past."
"It will cause them to be more frugal in the beginning," Hudson said. "But they can come back and ask for additional money, but they will need to bring their data."
Hudson said he and other district officials understand "that we are talking about children and not widgets and we must be sensitive about that."
Principals and parents at several JCPS schools have told WDRB they are concerned about losing teachers.
Louisville Male High School Principal Jim Jury sent out an email on Monday warning staff about what could happen if the proposal is approved.
“This is a big deal, folks," Jury wrote, "It absolutely would have an effect here and will drive staffing decisions. You all need to understand that…If we are to lose eight teachers here, I don’t care what schedule we are on, we would not be able to make a master schedule work.”
In addition, changing the funding formula that the district has used for years will likely mean schools will lose funds that in the past they have "sold back" to the district to use for other positions or programs, said Brigitte Owens, principal of Stopher Elementary School in eastern Jefferson County.
As WDRB reported Dec. 22, JCPS has spent millions of dollars over the past three years compensating teachers whose class sizes exceeded what is allowed under their contract -- and the district plans to spend up to $1.5 million again this year.
Overage pay kicks in when the number of children in a classroom exceeds the student-to-teacher ratio outlined in the contract between JCPS and the Jefferson County Teachers Association. The ratio is one teacher per 24 students in grades K-3; one for every 28 in grades 4-5; and one for every 29 in grade 5. If a class exceeds those numbers, teachers either get supplemental pay or a full-time instructional assistant.
"Overages work for us," said Owens, whose school has spent $485,800 over the past three school years and has already racked up $71,000 in overages this year. "We've been able to look at the needs of our school and figure out a budget that works for our students. Our teachers are happy, our parents are happy...and our school has been successful, why change that?"
Since it opened in 2007, Stopher has ranked among the highest performing schools in Kentucky. It's also been named a national Blue Ribbon School, a recognition from the U.S. Department of Education which is based on student achievement and other research-based indicators of school quality.
"We don't get the Title I funds that other schools get," Owens said, referring to the federal money given to schools that serve a large percentage of low-income children. "We use the overage pay not just to pay those teachers whose classes go over the ratios, but to fund many other important programs and positions."
Owens has been able to expand the school's Response to Intervention (RtP) program, which uses data to determine the individualized instruction that students need, as well as to help pay for an outdoor classroom. The school also offers two foreign languages -- Latin and Chinese.
Hudson, who has only been on the job since November, said he is still learning how the district's budgeting process works. But as he sees it, "all overages need to be authorized."
"Some kids are sitting on east side of town at a school like Stopher and are doing very well," Hudson said. "If you are a parent of kid at a school like Frayser, how do you feel about that?"
"This is the dilemma that we are dealing with – it's moral dilemma," he said.
Ultimately, it will be up to the district to "come up with a recommendation and decide how this ought to go….and then we will take it to the board."
In addition, this fall, Hudson said the district "will be doing lots of budget reviews in the field to make sure we have a better understanding of what is going on in our schools."
He said he hopes those reviews will prevent any "huge changes" in the 2017-18 budgeting process.
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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