State budget school impact

Gov. Bevin seeks cuts for schools

ASHLAND Cutting administrative costs to absorb employee health insurance costs may sound good in theory, but local school officials say there is little administrative fat to be carved away.

They also say tapping reserve funds to cover state cuts in transportation funding defeats the purpose of having contingency money built into the budget — namely, to pay for unexpected expenses such as building repairs.

Officials from several area districts say it would be difficult to squeeze enough from their budgets to comply with expectations Gov. Matt Bevin announced Tuesday when he presented his two-year state budget proposal.

The proposal does not cut the base amount of per-pupil funding, but it does call for local districts to pay a larger share of transportation costs and health insurance.

The proposal also would eliminate 70 state programs, some of them essential to public schools, such as professional development for teachers.

“I don’t feel we are overstaffed by any means. We try to keep as bare-bones as we can,” said Ashland Superintendent Sean Howard. “If anything, we need administrative assistants . . . this is probably considered low-hanging fruit for any district and it’s probably a misconception in most.”

If anything, administrators are increasingly expected to add more duties, said Russell chief financial officer Dennis Chambers. Chambers himself doubles as food service director, facilities director, maintenance supervisor and safety coordinator. “We try to decrease our costs by wearing multiple hats . . . we feel we’ve tightened up as much as we can,” he said.

A meager 3.91 percent of Boyd County’s budget goes to administrative costs, according to interim superintendent Bill Boblett. That is less than the state average of 4.84 percent.

“In a district our size, that’s not a lot. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it would be difficult to cut,” Boblett said.

Greenup County uses attrition as a tool to pare its administrative overhead — “when we have retirements or an administrator leaves the district, we look at not replacing them,” business manager Scott Burchett said.

Bevin wants local districts to cover a $138 million cut in transportation funding from their reserve funds, but that would deplete the pot of money needed for unexpected expenses, officials said.

“It’s there for a reason, to pay for minor to mid-level construction and repairs,” Boblett said. The Boyd district has several older buildings and if, for instance, a boiler fails in mid-winter, swift repair is essential — and not cheap, he said.

A recent gas line replacement cost the district between $25,000 and $30,000, he said.

Boyd’s reserve fund is about 5 percent of the budget, which is what the state suggests as an adequate cushion. The state mandates at least 2 percent for contingencies.

Bevin proposes cutting transportation funding by 62 percent, but districts for several years have been absorbing more transportation costs, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Districts were paying 36 percent of transportation costs 10 years ago and are paying 49 percent now, according to KCEP.

The state share has dropped from 64 percent to 51 percent, according to KCEP.

In Russell, a smaller district, the increased share for transportation would be more than $400,000, which would be “crippling,” Chambers said.

The district has a healthy reserve, but reserves would only be a stopgap. “We could only use reserves for so long, and those districts without reserves, what would they do?” he said.

Bevin’s proposal does not call for reductions in state funding based on student and attendance numbers. However, local officials see that as tantamount to a cut since costs continue to rise and the funding amount has not been increased in several years.

“It could be sold as a positive, but we’re still looking at a loss with the required cuts,” said Howard in Ashland.

The priority in Ashland will be to avoid making budget cuts that directly affect classroom instruction, he said.

“We will tighten our purse strings and do what we need to do to keep opportunities open for our kids. At the end of the day our kids will not know the difference,” Howard said.

Bevin’s proposal doesn’t necessarily reflect the final budget; lawmakers in the state Senate and House of Representatives will wrangle over terms before adopting a final plan.

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