School administrators worried about K-12 cuts in Gov. Bevin's pr - WDRB 41 Louisville News

School administrators worried about K-12 cuts in Gov. Bevin's proposed budget

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – While per-pupil funding for K-12 education will hold steady in Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed biennial budget, district administrators said Wednesday that other school-related cuts in the plan will lead to some very difficult budget decisions in the months ahead.

Under Bevin’s proposal, per-student funding for the state’s public school districts will remain $3,981 in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

But with contributions to the state’s cash-strapped pension systems totaling $3.3 billion over two years, Bevin’s proposal calls on local districts to shoulder more of the financial load on items like transportation and health insurance while also cutting funds entirely for textbooks, professional development and other areas.

The state’s share of transportation costs for school districts will drop by $138.6 million in each year of the biennium, or 61.4 percent, and its share of health insurance coverage for districts will drop by about $43 million, or about 6 percent, per year.

During his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday, Bevin said school districts should look to $950 million in their collective reserve funds and trim their administrative budgets to help make ends meet.

That point was also one in which Bevin singled out Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district that’s the subject of a management audit by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Bevin, speaking on his desire to see school districts cut their administrative budgets, said JCPS has “600 people making $100,000 a year or more who don’t touch your students, who don’t teach in the classrooms.”

“That’s where the cuts are going to come from,” he said.

However, JCPS acting Superintendent Marty Pollio said in a statement that 63 percent of those who earn six figures “work in our schools with students full-time.”

“They are principals, assistant principals, counselors, school psychologists and nurses who interact with students every day,” Pollio said.

JCPS said its budget would face at least $25 million in cuts on top of $17 million in higher pension costs under the plan laid out by Bevin Tuesday. The district’s contingency fund totals $153 million, with $23 million of that already earmarked for spending.

“One of my top priorities has been returning funds to our schools and classrooms where we can have the most direct impact on increasing student learning,” Pollio said. “I am concerned that last night’s proposals could significantly impact our progress.”

Diane Porter, who chairs the Jefferson County Board of Education, also worried how Bevin’s proposed budget would affect the district if it’s implemented as written.

“The budget proposals presented last night will significantly impact student learning and success,” she said in a statement.

Superintendents and administrators in other districts say spending cuts coupled with increased pension contributions for classified staff covered by the County Employees Retirement System will strain their budgets.

John Stith, chief operations officer for Hardin County Schools, estimates that his district faces about $3 million in cuts -- around $2.5 million for transportation, $300,000 for textbooks and $200,000 for professional development -- plus up to $2 million more in CERS pension contributions under Bevin’s proposed budget.

“I hope people understand that K-12 education is not being held harmless,” Stith said.

Trimble County Schools Superintendent Steve Miracle agreed.

Miracle is worried that with the state more of the financial burden of running school districts will fall on local taxpayers.

“Each thing he says he’s going to cut and put back on the local district, he also should make clear that that’s putting it back on the local citizens in those local districts and those local communities because the only means for a lot of our districts, Trimble being one of those districts, the only means for us to make up that money is through local taxing, and that is also very limited,” he said.

“There’s no way that Trimble County can make up the cuts that he’s going to propose and put in place just by taxing our citizens. There’s no way they could sustain that.”

Miracle suggested that Bevin take each district’s circumstance into account when crafting his budget proposal, something echoed by Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Price.

“We’re not a JCPS. We’re not a Fayette County,” Price said. “I’ll even say we’re not a Bullitt County. We’re not a Hardin County, and he needs to look at even what’s happening to eastern Kentucky school districts with the lack of the coal tax.

“I was talking with a superintendent about a month ago. She’s superintendent of Leslie County, and she was hoping to be able to make payroll.”

The three administrators also said they were concerned that Bevin called on them to utilize their reserves in future budgets.

State law requires districts to have at least 2 percent of their budgets in reserve.

“It’s a short-term fix,” Stith said. “If you count your reserves, maybe it gets you through a year, maybe two at best, but then what are you going to do?”

“When the pot runs out, then what do you do?” he added. “I don’t think it’s a long-term solution.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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