Times Journal

Posted October 10, 2012 at 2:27 pm

The Russell County Board of Education met Monday in a standing room only meeting for a special work session to discuss the adoption of a balanced working budget.

The reason for the gathering of well over 100 citizens and school system employees was a mix of understanding that the new budget would require massive cuts in spending, and to get answers for the fears generated by numerous rumors.

On point is the need to reduce spending by $519,450, according to Superintendent Kenny Pickett.

To receive help in determining how best to make these cuts, Pickett requested help from the Kentucky Department of Education, and ultimately financial consultant Linda Martin was contracted for a two-day period to delve through the budget to find areas that cuts could be made.

Pickett quelled the first rumor, denying that the state was going to take over the school system.

“I asked the state to give us some guidance and some help on reducing the budget,” Pickett said. “We are not under state control.”

“Miss Martin came at our request, with us paying Miss Martin to give us some guidance of what we could do, what we couldn’t do, legally…”

The reduction, if passed by the board, will look this way:

* Reduction in force, personnel layoffs, savings of approximately $320,000;

* $201,200 savings, reduction 19 Instructional assistants (teacher aids.);

* $21,500 savings, reduction one on Technology program;

* $28,300 savings, reduction of two attendance clerks;

* $22,500 savings, reduction two school administrative assistants;

* $12,000 savings, reduction of one custodian.

Pickett explained that the reductions will happen “without names attached,” meaning they will happen according to established guidelines and qualifications, “within each job classification effected.”

* Cuts in funds, savings of approximately $174,000.

* $75,000 indirect cost in food service.

* $30,650 reallocation of funding.

* $44,000 grant in fund II that can be utilized as partial salary.

* $24,350 through the ability to charge half of two employees’ pay that works half time in food service to food service.

* Contractual service reduction, savings of approximately $28,000.

* Elevator contract, from four service inspections a year to one.

* No cell phones for any employee provided by school district starting November 1.

* Reduction of one school nurse contract.

* Reduction of five vehicles owned by the district.

Pickett dispelled a rumor that a new Chevy Tahoe was purchased for superintendent usage. Pickett said the used vehicle was purchased for $23,000 through state surplus.

* $43,000 Substitute Teacher salary schedule amended.

* Non degree will receive $65 a day.

* Degree with teacher’s certificate will receive $75 a day.

Pickett approximated the total savings of $545,800, with the additional savings required to fund $30,000 to $40,000 in unemployment costs.

He then reiterated that the measure was not up for vote, and that these will be recommendations put before the board to vote on.

“Nobody is being fired,” said board member Wayne Gosser after the plan was laid out. “Nobody is being dismissed because they haven’t done their job.”

After explaining that a balanced budget must be submitted, and that the plan, “pretty much agreed on from the state level down,” Gosser said it was all they could afford considering the tax base and continued cuts in education from the state.

The county went into the new fiscal year aware that they would be losing $400,000 in SEEK funding this year, the remark was made, and would come up again later when the floor was opened for questions from those in attendance.

Gosser then opened up the floor for questions and comments from the audience who had listened attentively during the 30-minute work session.

It was at this point that many rumors were addressed and questions and concerns were addressed, and general comments made.

It was asked how much the school paid to secure the services of Martin, which was $300 a day for two days, or $600 total.

A question about pay for board members led Gosser to explain that board members receive $75 a month, or $900 a year, “and if I have to come down here four or five times a week, that comes out of my pocket,” said Gosser.

The board dispelled rumors that there were discussions of closing Union Chapel schools.

A question regarding spending $5,000 for an “automated subsystem” led Pickett to say that they had researched through Pulaski and other school systems, and that their testimony was the system would save the school district money in the long run.

A question was then asked that, knowing that federal money was being cut and the school system would not be receiving as much funding as in the past, why were so many new teachers hired for the beginning of the school year knowing that such a major adjustment would need to be made? Pickett responded that his philosophy is to “cut it as close as we can cut it,” spending and not stockpiling funds.

“I knew we were going to lose $400,000. I knew that up front. I thought we would have enough to squeak by this year,” Pickett said. “But we’re short. That’s not a board members’ fault, that’s my fault.”

Pickett dispelled the rumor that he was asking for a $15,000 raise. Gosser added that he had not asked, nor would he get it if he were too.

Teacher aid Jennifer Blakey asked if things get better, would they be called back; to which Pickett answered that lay-offs would be called back in reverse order of their being laid off.

A question was asked about “discrepancy” in salaries for people performing the same job. The answer given was that employees are paid according to pay scales for the position, with differences being rank or years experience.

It was asked why not cut more employees that do not interact directly with children, with the answer that there was a loss of administrative assistant positions.

A food service employee asked about proper substitute coverage for employees that have to be off, but that they routinely have to spend 15 or more minutes of their own time to get their daily work done. Pickett said he would look into the issue of proper coverage of floating substitute cooks.

A question of how they will inform those who will be let go received the response from Pickett that he would go to each individual personally, that the reduction would take effect October 31 and that he will likely have visited each individual by the end of this week.

It was asked if it was too late to go back and amend the tax rate.

Gosser said personally he would not approve a tax increase, that the $.03 per $100 of assessed value on property would have raised just over $300,000, still leaving cuts to be made. It was then clarified that they could not address tax rates until August 2013.

It was asked that all possible effort be made to reduce the number of layoffs of instructional assistants, and that the cuts would impact student learning.

It was asked how the Kentucky Lottery impacts school funding, considering a percentage of those earnings are to be dedicated to education; with the answer being that the money goes to KEYS and scholarship funding.

It was asked how much, on average, it costs to keep the Auditorium/Natatorium complex operating and how that figure compares to the salaries of the 19 assistants.

Pickett said he did not know that figure right off hand but would attempt to get it for Tuesday night’s meeting.

A participant requested that board members in the future look at the possibility of a tax increase with her idea being that as a whole it would impact the community less than cuts to staff.

It was asked that consideration be given to eliminating more custodians, garage or maintenance to save teacher’s assistant positions, answer being that one custodian was being cut.

Passage of the new budget was considered likely at the regular meeting held last Tuesday.