As officials in local school districts are drafting next year’s budget, they must grapple with changes in state funding after Kentucky lawmakers passed a budget last month.
“The budget has some decent things for education,” said John Stith, chief operations officer of Hardin County Schools. “It’s not a great budget for education, but it’s better than what (Gov. Matt Bevin) proposed. Still, it’s not a great budget.”
The state budget passed last month increased per-pupil funding for local school districts while cutting funding for other programs from professional development to extended school services. Officials say increases don’t make up for the cuts.
“We’re going backward by $70,000,” said Jon Ballard, superintendent of Elizabethtown Independent Schools.
Ballard will discuss the district’s tentative budget with school board members at 11:30 a.m. today at a work session at the district’s Central Office.
Local school boards will vote on tentative budgets, the second step of the budgeting process, later this month.
“We’re not going to have to make deep cuts,” he said, adding they can make up the cuts with general fund money.
Ballard said he’s not going to let the cuts affect students or the programs in place.
“But we can’t do that forever,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll find a way to get by without making sacrifices.”
Stith echoed that, saying the board looks to make changes that affect students the least.
“We can stomach it for a year, but then what?” he said. “... This is not the first time we’ve had to cut back. There does come a point where you can’t continue to cut without impacting the classroom.”
The state budget increased the per-pupil base funding in the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky formula by $19 to $4,000 for the next two fiscal years. Lawmakers have said the state budget pays for education at a record level.
“It’s historical but not a historical increase,” Stith said.
The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found the inflation-adjusted per-pupil total SEEK funding amount in the budget is 16 percent below what it was in 2008.
The compromise budget between the House and Senate restored some cuts to education. However, inflation-adjusted, per-pupil funding is still below 2008, before the recession #kyga18 https://t.co/vK04sd6OAH pic.twitter.com/LTMPL0CRuP— KY Policy (@KyPolicy) April 3, 2018
Stith said the SEEK increase will bring in about $250,000, but the district is losing nearly $500,000 in cuts to other programs such as instructional resources and professional development.
“We’re looking at a net loss,” he said.
Stith said making up for the cuts is an ongoing process and everything is on the table.
“A lot of low hanging fruit already has been picked,” he said.
The budget does not provide more money for transportation. Districts pay for about 60 percent of the transportation costs.
“Restoring it back to 60 percent doesn’t accomplish what we need to accomplish,” Stith said.
With more local dollars going to transportation, Stith said the district will be forced to look at bus routes. Right now, the district doesn’t have students walk farther than .3 of a mile to a bus stop. That might change next year, he said.
Stith said parts of the budget seem like “cutting our nose off to spite our face.”
Ballard said the SEEK increase amounts to an additional $42,000 for Elizabethtown schools. He said districts still need to train teachers and buy instructional resources despite the cuts.
“I think it’s important that people understand that public education is still not properly funded,” he said.
“It’s been a deflating year for folks,” he said.
Hal Heiner, a new member of state board of education, said last month that closing the achievement gap was his top priority. He said the state has “made absolutely zero progress” in achieving that goal.
Ballard said the cuts can “cripple” addressing problems and closing the gap.
“How about giving me money to address that and not take away money?” he said.
The state budget was one of many bills passed that affect school districts next year. Districts will teach financial literacy and other essential skills next year and provide instruction on the Holocaust and other acts of genocide. Also, staff will receive training on epilepsy and suicide prevention.
Districts also are required to develop policies for identifying and assisting students in kindergarten through third grade with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
Ballard said it was a “light” year for education-related bills.
“Most of the things are good things,” Ballard said. “I think financial literacy is important. A lot of these things cost money, and rarely are things taken out. More demand is put on schools and more and more is expected.”
Ballard said the district is looking to find a way to tie financial literacy and essential skills into one class.
“It’s an opportunity to tie it all into a nice, neat package,” he said.
House Bill 3, the essentials skills bill, was modeled in part after HCS’s work ethic certification program, so HCS shouldn’t have to change much to meet those requirements, spokesman John Wright said.