School budget shows preliminary cuts

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By Robin Bass

As Spencer County students head back to the classroom to begin a new year this fall, don’t expect to see them bringing home any new books.

Superintendent Chuck Adams said he expects the state to forego next year’s textbook purchase cycle, which could have meant new math books for grades K through 8. In a similar move, the school board voted to cut $30,000 toward the purchase of high school textbooks when they approved the district’s 2009-10 draft budget last week.

“I will be very surprised if we buy textbooks,” said Adams, who explained that the state does not provide Kentucky school districts with funds to buy high school textbooks. Most districts use money from their general funds.

Other than re-using books, Adams said the $244,000 in reductions to next year’s projected $15.9 million budget will not directly affect the educational instruction of students. He even hopes to maintain the current number of teaching positions, but cautioned that situation could change depending on staffing allocations or further cuts by Kentucky’s General Assembly.

With 81 percent of the district’s general fund going toward salaries and benefits, Adams was looking for ways to cut costs. As a result, each school will lose several thousands in overtime revenue that was previously budgeted for custodians and classified office staff. He also eliminated money for hiring substitutes to fill in when office personnel are sick. Adams said employees commonly referred to as receptionists, or office secretaries will just have to do the best they can without the benefit of hired replacements. Employees at the district’s bus transportation and maintenance departments will see an elimination in their overtime pay as well.

“This budget will cause discomfort for some, but it doesn’t call for cutting positions at this point,” said Adams. “Right now, that’s the biggest thing we are trying to protect.”

Adams said every department in the district was affected in some way by the budget cuts. There are draft reductions in:

• travel expenses, supplies, and delaying computer purchases at the district office;

• the transportation department will use a van to transport the dozen or so vocational students instead of a diesel-guzzeling school bus;

• the district will delay vehicle purchases; and even

• reduce the number of times the school board is allowed to meet each month, thus cutting board members’ per diem.

Adams said he also saw an opportunity to cut the district’s diesel spending projections by $100,000 because the 2009 projection was based on $4.50/gallon.

After going over the budget line-by-line in January, the district’s new school board passed the draft budget unanimously at last Monday’s regular meeting.

“I didn’t see anything that was alarming,” said Scott Travis, school board vice-chair. “A budget is just a guideline of the numbers and these numbers were not alarming.”

Travis said he still plans to monitor the budget situation closely and make sure Spencer County students are getting the “most bang for the buck.”

Despite all the budget cuts, Adams said it still was not enough to make up for $354,000 in state-mandated step and rank salary increases. As a result, the district will use $375,000 in contingency funds to make up the difference. Using the savings account for expenses will drop the district’s contingency fund to approximately 3.7 percent, or $746,000, said Finance Officer Vicki Goodlett. The state law requires districts to maintain a two percent contingency.

“When we went through the KDE (Kentucky Department of Education) audit, they said a district our size should be at a seven or eight percent contingency. If we had not been at seven percent, this budget would be much more drastic,” said Goodlett. “There are a lot of smaller districts struggling to keep that two percent.”

Adams said the draft budget could be drastically changed depending on a variety of variables in the hands of state legislators, including the decision to cut flexible funding (extended school services, safe schools, professional development and textbooks) or make adjustments to the SEEK formula. In May, a tentative budget is due to the state, followed by the final budget in September after property assessments are completed in the county.

In other school board news:

• Architects from Sherman Carter and Barnhart gave a progress report on the renovation project at Spencer County High School. It was reported that by the beginning of next week, the administrative suites should be ready for occupancy and the exterior paneling should be installed (weather permitting.)

• Vice-Chairman Scott Travis requested a thorough investigation of the districts transportation services to see if students could be better served, including an in-depth look into how bus routes are determined. Adams said that any changes to transportation could not create added financial burden to the general fund.

• Travis also stated that he would like the district to look into adding a fence to the east end of Taylorsville Elementary’s athletic field. He said this and other safety concerns need to be addressed. Chairman Jeanie Stevens agreed that there are safety concerns that need to be corrected.

Travis said that he understands the current budget situation, but that the district still needed to set goals to improve schools for students.

“I think our goal should be to do what we need to do and find a way to pay for it,” said Travis, like getting bleachers at the high school.

• Adams shared information about President Barack Obama’s stimulus package that was gathered at a recent KSBA conference. Adams said that any stimulus money earmarked for schools would be intended for special education, funding for Title 1 schools (schools with students eligible for free and reduced lunch), and construction for renovations or updates that are “shovel ready.”

• The board approved the installation of a weather warning siren at Spencer County Middle School. The City of Taylorsville was awarded a $28,000 federal grant to purchase and install two outdoor weather sirens.

• The board approved the formation of the TES cross country team and stipends for two coaches. Stipend amounts are $500 each.

• The board tabled the discussion of the 2009-10 school calendar.

• SCMS teachers Carol Rowland and Kathy Brown were recognized for earning their National Board Certifications.