For the second year in a row, the Harlan County Board of Education has accepted major cuts to its budget during its April meeting.
On Monday evening the board approved reductions amounting to $1.8 million for the coming school year.
Superintendent Mike Howard said several positions were eliminated, but most cost savings were reached by reducing the number of contract days and hours for staff, or redefining positions to lower levels.
Under the finance method schools use to account for its costs, this means most people will retain jobs and rate of pay, but fewer days and hours means everyone will get paid less for those jobs when it is accounted for over the course of the school year.
In presenting his plan to the board, Howard said how “just about every day now” school districts in Kentucky are making severe cuts to their budgets. Nearby Middlesboro is dealing with a plan to cut more than $1 million, and Oldham County is finding ways to cut $3 million, he said.
Many federally-funded programs are now gone and others are being drastically reduced, Howard said. The state has its own set of ongoing financial problems that create shortfalls in the education budget accounting for the bulk of the district’s operating dollars.
“It’s a sad thing to see going on in education, but that’s just the situation we’re facing today,” Howard commented. “But this is what we need to sustain our school system and keep it financially sound.”
The actual number of people who have lost jobs won’t be known until retirements, staff transfers and other acts of attrition take place over the summer break.
Howard’s staffing plan was adopted in an effort to maintain current student-teacher ratios at each level, but unlike the situation last year, several positions were eliminated because of the district’s ongoing loss of state and, especially, federal funding.
Student-teacher ratios will remain at 24:1 in the primary grades, 27:1 in grades 4-5, 29:1 in grades 6-8, and 26:1 in grades 9-12. Only those elementary principals with 550 students will retain an assistant. Contractual day funding for principals is reduced from 47 to 25 for those with fewer than 300 students. Those above 300 students will remain the same. Extended days for principals are reduced from 53 to 47 in both the high school and elementary schools.
The board was not unanimous in its consent, with Wallace Napier voting against the plan. Myra Mosley reluctantly agreed to the proposal, saying “It’s the hardest meeting I’ve ever had to sit through.”
Chairman Gary Farmer sadly recalled his prediction of over three years ago when the district accepted millions in federal “stimulus money” with the hope that could be used to tide themselves over in the hope of better days to come under a new federal administration and congress.
“I knew we’d be back here in a couple of years having to take out everything we’d just put in, and here we are,” he said.
Board member Brenda Henson asked when was the last time the district’s teachers received raises, and it was reported as having occurred in 2008.
In his proposed list to the board, Howard said “Superintendent Cuts” that he will take at his discretion and do not require board approval.
Specific budget and position cuts Howard presented to the board include the following:
• Make instructional assistants six hours per day
• Eliminate one assistant from each high school sports team
• Reduce the attendance specialist position to a 185-day contract
• Move the Alternative School to the high school and eliminate one teacher
• Eliminate the drug counselor
• Eliminate the lead systems analyst position
• Cut central office finance salaries
• Eliminate the district-wide school nurse
• Reduce instructional assistants to a 181-day contract
• Change administrative assistants to central office receptionist/secretary
• Eliminate the Community Based Work Transition Program (CBWTP) job coach position
• Eliminate one itinerant high school music position
• Eliminate the driver education position
• Change the high school athletic director to a teaching position
• Reduce the county-wide athletic director to a 185-day contract
• Eliminate one school psychologist from the central office
• Reduce school secretaries to a 7-hour per day contract
• Reduce the maintenance apprentice to a 220-day contract
• Eliminate head custodian pay district-wide
• Eliminate department head extra pay
• Reduce assistant superintendent from 55 to 47 extended days
• Reduce custodian base pay to a 181-day contract