Education cuts could affect local schools

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By James Roberts

Though the state budget passed by the General Assembly restored a great deal of proposed education funding cuts, local administrators say more funding is needed.

"It's a little disappointing," said Taylor County Superintendent Gary Seaborne. "We're going to receive less funding. We're still expected to reach proficiency by 2014, but with diminished funding. It is pretty discouraging."

The budget passed the Senate by a 35-3 vote on April 2. The House followed suit, passing the budget with a 74-21 vote. Gov. Steve Beshear had 10 days to consider any vetoes before lawmakers return to Frankfort today for the final two days of the regular session.

According to a budget analysis provided by the Council for Better Education, the base Support Education Excellence in Kentucky funding for the 2008-2009 school year is 15 percent less than current levels.

SEEK funding, which provides the majority of public school funding, is based on a formula that treats school districts equally, taking into account local revenues, student demographics and other variables.

Seaborne said he can't recall a greater cut to SEEK funding, however, during the past five years there was always the threat of cuts.

Campbellsville Independent Superintendent Diane Woods-Ayers said the drop in SEEK funding could mean job cuts.

"Reduction of personnel and services will be required in order to keep a balanced budget," she said.

At Campbellsville Independent, salaries occupy 80 percent of the District's budget. Any decrease in SEEK funds, Wood-Ayers said, would make it difficult for the District to maintain staff.

"Districts have not received a 2008-2009 SEEK forecast since Jan. 31, 2008. Taking into account inflation and the mandated salary increase, it is estimated that the District would need $350,884.17 in additional SEEK funding. Total state funding of about $500,000 is needed to maintain programs at the current level."

But nothing is certain until lawmakers return to Frankfort and school districts receive SEEK forecasts.

"We don't know what the cuts mean here locally yet," Seaborne said. "We will protect our employees as much as we can."

Several school programs received funding cuts. At Taylor County, extended school services, professional development and Safe Schools programs alone were cut $123,300.

Safe Schools money helps fund the alternative school, drug and violence prevention programs and additional safety personnel salaries. ESS provides funding for after-school programs and summer school, and professional development funds provide teacher training.

"It is estimated that ESS funding will be reduced 62 percent," Woods-Ayers said. "For our District, this would mean $34,888 less funding. If this is accurate, all ESS services will need to be reduced."

Taylor County could lose $31,000 in professional development funding, Seaborne said. Each year, Taylor County Schools spends all of the professional development funding provided by the state for teacher training. The cut could mean less or lower quality professional development, he said.

Campbellsville Independent will lose $15,267 in professional development funding. This is problematic, Woods-Ayers said, because the state mandates that certified staff members receive at least four days of professional development.

The reduction in Safe Schools funding could also affect school resource officers, Woods-Ayers said.

"The amount of decrease to our District would be 60 percent or $17,930 less in funding," Woods-Ayers said. "Our school resource office is funded in part through Safe Schools money."

Another area of concern is transportation. Though the budget funds transportation at the same level as the current school year, inflation will result in a loss of buying power. It is estimated that keeping the funding level the same is equal to an 8 percent funding cut. Transportation funds cover driver and bus monitor salaries, fuel, maintenance and new buses, among other items.

Seaborne said the cut could mean the District would not be able to buy three buses to replace older, high mileage buses as it does every year.

Woods-Ayers said Campbellsville Independent's transportation department could see cuts and that the District would not be able to buy new buses.

Like transportation, pre-school funding will remain the same as current levels, which, after adjusting for inflation, results in a cut. Both Woods-Ayers and Seaborne said this would hurt the program.

While the state budget does provide a 1 percent pay raise for school personnel, Seaborne said, the slight raise doesn't reflect inflation or changes in employee experience levels.

This could lead to Kentucky losing some teachers.

"Because other states already have higher salaries than Kentucky, this small raise in salaries will definitely mean teachers' salaries will be less and less attractive in Kentucky," Woods-Ayers said.

State funding for textbooks also remains the same. The state provides funds for the purchase of elementary and middle school textbooks only.

"The District will have to be selective in replacing textbooks in the next adoption cycle," Woods-Ayers said.

The state budget picture will become clearer today once Beshear's veto intentions are revealed. The governor could approve the budget, reject the entire budget or reject individual items.

Though he hasn't made his intentions known, Beshear has expressed disappointment in the budget because it contains no plans for new, recurring revenue.

u Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.