Davis says budget cuts will ‘hurt’ bad

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE -- Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget probably made few friends in the education world.

For Bullitt County superintendent Keith Davis, the trend of decreasing state funds for education could get a little bit worse.

“It will hurt, bad,” Davis said of the proposed budget cuts.

The brightest news from the governor was that the SEEK base funding would remain at $3,006 per student.

The bad news is that while the figure is the highest ever, it is really well behind the 2002 figure, if you included inflation.

If the Consumer Price Index from 17 years ago was used, Davis said the districts would be receiving $4,258 per day per child.

That $277 per student different at 11,885 students and that means that Bullitt County has lost over $3.2 million.

“That is the equivalent of 60 fewer teachers,” said Davis. “These are real numbers, not smoke and mirror numbers, and represents what can only be called a disinvestment by the Commonwealth’s recent and current leaders in the development of tomorrow’s leaders.”

Throw on top of that the governor’s plan that would provide no transportation dollars to local districts.

That would be a loss of $2.58 million, which is on top of the $2.59 million the district has been underfunded by the state.

Davis said the transportation dollars have been underfunded since the mid-2000s. By the formula, Bullitt County should receive $6.7 million from the state to help defray transportation. The district will actually receive $4.1 million.

If another $2.59 million is eliminated, Davis said that only “bad choices”  exist, including the elimination of the annual purchase of seven new buses.

That would result in the buses being used for a longer period of time, which would increase the cost of maintenance.

Bevin also stated in his address to the Commonwealth that districts were holding too much money in reserve accounts.

Davis said there is a state requirement to have at least 2 percent in the contingency fund. Even is the state Department of Education allowed for that amount to dip below the 2 percent mark, Davis said that would be a bad idea.

The district carried over $17.3 million last June; however, only $12.2 million could be freely used. The rest would be restricted to certain uses.

Over the past 12 years, Davis said the  carryover fluctuated between $9-$12 million.

While sounding like a lot of money, the superintendent said it would only cover three payroll periods in case of a disaster.

"The district could deplete these reserves, which were carefully and purposefully saved to make up for budget cuts at the state level," said Davis. "However, this would be unwise."

Another of the concerns of Bevin dealt with administrative costs, especially in a district like Jefferson County where many were paid over $100,000 a year.

Davis said Bullitt County's total administrative costs are below the state average of 4.84 percent.

"This is not very much when you consider that what is in that mix (from your superintendent to the people who ready the payroll to your principal, to the people who train the bus drivers, to the ladies who greet therapist, calculate attendance, get the POs done and answer the phones)," said Davis.

In Bullitt County, the administrative percentage is 3.07 percent.

The governor's proposal would cut administrative costs by 12 percent in each of the next two years.

Davis said that would amount to $567,652 in the first year alone.

His concern is cuts in the support staff will come back to hurt the teachers, who will have to do even more clerical work than they already do.

Another cut in state funding could come in the area of textbooks. This year, the district was to receive $316,730 for textbooks. Under the governor's plan, that would be zero.

In the 2007-08 school year, Bullitt County received $412,060 in textbook funds for 1,000 less students.

Another area to be cut would be professional development funding. The current year allocation is to be $180,919. Next year, it would be zero.

In 2007-08, the district received $249,532.

For those educators who are retiring but have not reached Medicare age, the state provided a supplement.

This year, nearly $54 million was set aside for the health insurance supplement. Under the new proposal, there would be no money.

Davis said there is no way to know what will ultimately be approved by the General Assembly and what the pension plan reforms will look like.

However, the superintendent is worried.

"The alternatives are not good to deal with cuts of this magnitude," said Davis. 

It could mean deferred maintenance on the school facilities. Or it could mean older buses will be on the streets and bus stops may be less frequent.

It could also mean that the district is not able to keep up with changes in technology. Or it may require larger class sizes.

Instructional tutors and coaches could be affected. Programs, such as ones for gifted and talented students, could be affected.

Davis said that the many great programs started by the county to help every child learn might be put in jeopardy.

The budget proposal will be handled by the General Assembly. The two-year spending plan must be approved prior to the start of the next fiscal year on July 1, 2018.