According to Gov. Steve Beshear’s office, Kentucky is currently facing a $450 million shortfall this fiscal year, and Beshear asked Kentucky Education Commissioner Jon Draud to prepare for cuts, which were announced only a few days after state officials said they are facing the biggest budget shortfall in recent memory.
Harlan County School District Superintendent Timothy Saylor said the cuts will be a “dagger into the heart of K-12 education across the state of Kentucky.”
“Because of unfunded mandates and loss of enrollment, two years ago we were forced to cut approximately ($1.5 million) from our budget, which required reductions in our certified and classified staffs,” said Saylor. “If the legislature mandates this 4 percent cut, we will be right back in the same scenario as we were two years ago.”
Currently, the proposed cuts would come from the district’s general funds. However, there is a possibility the legislature could try to reduce the amount of money that districts receive from the Support Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) program.
Officials from both the Harlan County and Harlan Independent school districts said the proposed cuts would have a negative impact on their respective districts.
“Cutting 4 percent in the middle of a budget year would be devastating to our school system. We have already had to absorb a nearly $600,000 loss in SEEK revenue because of a drop in our end of year ADA that was well below our state projections. This has already left us with a bare-bones budget. Cutting 4 percent of our SEEK allocation now would be $782,544 with another $53,716 coming from preschool, extended school services, professional development, family resource centers, safe schools and textbooks,” said Harlan County School District assistant superintendent Mike Howard said. “To make these cuts in the middle of the year would mean possibly cutting instructional money to the schools, extracurricular trips, several classified jobs and reducing our contingency to around $200,000, which is one-fourth of what the state requires the school system to keep.”
“Four percent is significant for us. It looks like the total amount in SEEK funds and state grants (that would be lost) would be over $166,000,” Harlan Independent School District Superintendent David Johnson said. “As far as the grants go, we would have to look at what we can do in each of those grant programs, maybe cutting some of the tutoring services for students and maybe some of the training activities for our staff. Those are some of the things we would have to look at. We have also discussed that we would probably have to postpone purchasing computers and reduce our expenditures in maintenance.”
In reaction to the possible budget cuts, Draud has e-mailed district superintendents throughout the commonwealth asking them to estimate how a 4-percent cut in the district’s general budget would affect the quality of education.
The commissioner’s office will then compile the information from the superintendents and present its report to the legislature during January’s session.
Beshear said he would formulate a plan to address the shortfall by early December and then meet with legislators and people throughout the state for input. Beshear called the current economic crisis “as challenging as any in U.S. history.”
Johnson expressed optimism that the cuts will not have a major impact on the district’s classrooms.
“Our goal would be that if we have to make cuts like this mid-year, that we would try to reduce the impact on the classroom as much as possible,” he said. “A big concern is if those cuts remain for the 2009-2010 school year. It will make it much more difficult at that point to keep those cuts from affecting services and programs that would directly affect students.”
Johnson added that the proposed cuts could make it more challenging for school districts across the state to reach their proficiency goals.
“It makes it much more difficult to provide the types of intervention and support services that our students need to reach proficiency by the year 2014. School districts across the state are having a difficult time providing the needed programs to help our students, and cuts only make that more difficult,” he said. “We are hoping the cuts don’t occur. We are hoping the legislature and the governor will be able to come up a solution that will keep this from affecting our schools.”
If 4 percent of the budget were to be cut from all elementary and secondary schools, the state would save an estimated $130 million.
Beshear said cuts such as these are needed to combat the growing deficit.
“The financial crisis is neither imagined nor exaggerated. It’s real and must be addressed,” Beshear said. “Make no mistake, only tough choices lie ahead.”
Even with the state in the midst of a clear financial crisis, Beshear said he is confident that the state can, and will, emerge stronger.
“If we work together, if we put progress ahead of partisanship, I believe we will emerge stronger than before,” he said. “But we must commit ourselves now to working strategically and thoughtfully.”