Local school districts across the state once again will have to make mid-year budget cuts because of a $57 million shortfall in the state’s Support Education Excellence in Kentucky funding.
That shortfall is passed on to local districts on a prorated basis using the SEEK formula, which is based on school districts’ prior year average daily attendance.
Superintendent Elaine Farris said the shortfall means Clark County Public Schools will have to cut $383,614 from its remaining 2011-12 budget. Last year the district had a $360,000 mid-year cut.
Farris said that because there had been mid-year cuts before, the district planned its budget expecting another cut this year.
“We expected another reduction so we budgeted conservatively this year,” Farris said. “Because of that, it really will only impact us by $86,000. That’s a lot of money to have to cut in the middle of the year, but $86,000 is not as hard to find as $383,000 would be.”
The cuts will not affect the classrooms, Farris said, because all the money will be cut from the central office budget.
“This will definitely be from central office, we will not do anything to reduce funding to our schools,” Farris said. “We’ll be able to absorb this by a 1 to 2 percent across the board reduction in their budgets for the rest of this school year. It’s not a large enough amount of money that they will really even notice at central office, and it definitely won’t affect staffing or affect our classrooms.”
The district is better equipped to handle the mid-year cuts this year because it has been able to raise its contingency over the past few years.
School districts are required by law to maintain at least a 2 percent contingency, but the Kentucky Department of Education encourages districts to keep their contingency at more than 5 percent.
Clark County Public Schools had an 11.7 percent contingency in its 2011-12 budget. That was possible because of the board “turning the ship around by being willing to take some rather unpleasant steps the last three or four years,” allowing the district to address some of its most pressing needs to the school board during its working budget presentation in September, said School Financial Management Associates consultant Bob Waggoner.
Farris said she has been telling her staff and the board to get ready because there were more cuts to come, and that was confirmed Tuesday when Gov. Steve Beshear announced during his 2012 budget address to state legislators that K-12 funding for the state’s schools would be cut to 2008 levels in his proposed state budget for the next biennium.
Beshear said he would not cut SEEK funding in the upcoming budget, which is the main funding source for school districts, but Farris said the amount of money spent per student will go down each year because there will be no new money going into SEEK, while the number of students in the schools will continue to increase.
State Sen. R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, said he expected a lot of debate about the governor’s proposed freeze of the SEEK formula.
“The governor has flatlined funding for the SEEK formula, keeping it at the same levels as the previous biennium ... but because of increases in enrollment, per pupil expenditure will actually decline. I’m not excited about this. I think we’re going to have a very difficult time crafting that budget. I think the governor had a very difficult time crafting that budget,” Palmer said. “There’s going to be lots of debate about that. The governor has made it a priority of his to protect SEEK.
“I agree with that priority. Flatlining it is protecting it from cuts, but I’m not sure it fully meets the needs.”
School districts will also once again see a 4.5 percent reduction to other educational services such as family resource centers, extended school services, technology and professional development in the upcoming state budget.
Farris said the cuts to instructional services have affected the district for several years and will continue in the future, so the district has to look for ways to make the best use of the money it does get.
“We don’t get professional development money now, no textbook money comes from the state. This is the new normal,” Farris said. “We’re expected to do more with less, so our discussions in this district is that we have to look at everything and we have to repurpose our resources so that we can get the biggest bang for our buck to ensure that we have the biggest impact on student achievement that we possibly can.”
Contact Bob Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.