LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools can’t be forced to cut its administrative expenses as laid out in Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget, an attorney for the school district said Tuesday.

Frank Mellen’s legal interpretation came in response to a question from Jefferson County Board of Education member Chris Brady on whether the state can mandate budget cuts by JCPS during a discussion on the district’s draft budget at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

In his budget proposal, Bevin calls for school districts across the state to slash their administrative budgets by 12 percent in fiscal year 2019 and another 12 percent in fiscal year 2020. Districts whose administrative expenses are less than 15 percent of its spending on student instruction at the end of fiscal year 2019 may seek an exemption from the Kentucky Board of Education for fiscal year 2020, according to Bevin’s proposal.

Brady said in his opinion, requiring JCPS and other districts to cut spending would be akin to directing similar reductions for cities like Louisville.

Both, he said, are “independent governing bodies” and not subsidiaries of state government.

Mellen agreed.

“That’s correct,” Mellen said. “This Jefferson County school district is a school district like every other school district in Kentucky. It’s an independent legal entity, technically a municipality, which makes it very much like a city.”

Woody Maglinger, Bevin's press secretary, reiterated the governor's call for districts to trim administrative expenses in their budgets.

"Jefferson County Public Schools currently operates with $132 million in administrative overhead," he said in a statement. "JCPS’s focus should be on how to shrink their central office bureaucracy and reallocate funding to the classroom, not defending the status quo."

Brady said his question on the matter helps “inform our elected officials at the state level as well as our community and also other school districts around the state.” He added that he hopes lawmakers tasked with writing the budget will “understand that that would be a legal quagmire that I don’t think the state really wants to wade into.”

“I think it’s important that we all know what our options are and what the law says and not let someone define that for us,” Brady told WDRB News after Tuesday’s meeting.

However, that’s just one aspect of Bevin’s budget proposal that will affect school districts. While base per-pupil funding will remain $3,981, the governor’s spending plan calls for districts to pay a greater share of transportation and health insurance costs while cutting funding for textbooks and professional development.

Bevin’s proposal also lifts the requirement that school districts must hold 2 percent of their budgets in reserve funds, pending approval from the state education board and monitoring by the Kentucky Department of Education. Bevin called on districts to dip into their reserve accounts as they weather state spending cuts.

Cordelia Hardin, chief financial officer at JCPS, said the district would face $19 million in additional transportation expenses and about $6 million more for health insurance and lose $3.5 million for textbooks and $1.3 million for professional development under the budget introduced by Bevin.

School board member Chris Kolb said the recommended transportation reductions “would be one of the largest cuts in education funding ever experienced in our state.”

“We are moving into uncharted waters,” Kolb said.

The district’s $1.1 billion draft budget for next year, which only includes general fund spending, includes an estimated $1.2 million surplus, but that doesn’t factor in the proposed cuts laid out in Bevin’s budget proposal.

Acting JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said he’s been “driving back and forth a good amount of times from Frankfort” to discuss how the proposed cuts could impact JCPS and other districts across the state.

“We are in a situation where yes it would be painful, but I think we can find a way through it,” Pollio said during Tuesday’s meeting. “But we also have a lot of districts and superintendents that I collaborate with that are currently struggling to make payroll, and these cuts could be devastating.”

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

Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.