The Letcher County Board of Education is expected to discuss at next week’s board meeting what items might be cut from the district’s operating budget.
Board Chairman Robert Kiser said he has fielded between 30 and 40 phone calls from school employees and others concerned about possible budget cuts after a statement listing 10 items being considered for reduction was distributed last week to school employees.
Health insurance, life insurance and one personal day are the most popular benefits that employees have told Kiser they don’t want to lose.
“A lot of people are (upset) as they should be,” said Kiser. “Anytime they talk about taking benefits from employees, it would be a concern.”
The statement regarding budget cuts was prepared by officers from the Letcher County Teachers’ Organization (LCTO) and distributed by LCTO school representatives to other members of the LCTO last week.
Regina Brown, president of LCTO, attended the district budget com- mittee meeting on March 28 where she and about 15 others who attended the meeting were asked to rank items to consider for reduction from one to 10, with 10 being the item they want to see cut the least. Brown said those at the budget committee meeting were told that it will take $700,000 to meet budgetary needs and to pay for textbooks.
The list includes health insurance ($263,000), reduction of one personal day ($30,000), life insurance ($7,488), eliminate preschool transportation ($55,000), suspend Alternative Education ($240,000), nurses’ contract with the health department ($40,000), reduction in 24-hour security at Letcher County Central High School ($64,000), school buses ($200,000), one school resource officer ($30,000) and central office reduction ($150,000).
Brown said with staff salaries totaling 84 percent of the district’s budget and transportation making up 11 percent, cuts will have to come from five percent of the budget.
“These fall within that category,” said Brown.
Brown called an emergency LCTO meeting after the budget meeting.
“We as a body decided we would share what happened at the meeting with (LCTO) members,” she said. “We wanted our members to know. We have informed them to call their board members.”
Letcher County Public Schools Supt. Anna Craft said each of the proposed items is important and she understands why employees don’t want to see items lose funding.
“These are the things dearest to the hearts of our employees,” said Craft. “They have to cut something out. There just isn’t enough money.”
Craft said the items in question will at some point be looked at.
“I’m sure they want to let the board know they don’t want these cuts,” she said. “They need to be aware that these are the only major places cuts can be made. Nobody is for cutting any of these.”
Some districts can make cuts in staffing allocations, but Craft said the Letcher County district has always followed its allocation.
She doesn’t think there will be many pink slips to deliver to teachers this spring because every school that would lose a teacher based on enrollment and the staffing allocation guidelines also had retirements.
Letcher County is the only Kentucky school district that that pays an amount for health insurance beyond the state contribution and Brown said Craft has supported this initiative ever since she was hired as superintendent.
“That is something in my heart I think teachers need,” said Brown. “If you cut that it is a $600 pay cut basically for every school employee. It is going to hurt teachers but it is going to kill classified staff.”
Many employees work just for health insurance, Brown said.
“That’s a valuable benefit that employees have,” she said.
Some employees, Brown said, work two and three jobs to make ends meet.
“I’ve got people working at the BP with a college degree,” said Brown.
She said some teachers supplement their income by driving a school bus.
“Staff are extremely scared and concerned that their benefits are in jeopardy,” said Brown, whose husband is a laid off coal miner. “I know I am not the only one who has an unemployed spouse.
Brown suggested that the board consider advertising the sale of the old Whitesburg High School campus at a reduced price because the district is continuing to pay yearly maintenance costs on the old WHS buildings.
Besides being concerned for personal reasons, she said teachers are expected to increase test scores with a lack of state funding for textbooks, professional development and other resources.
“There’s no money for education,” she said. “You want to do the best you can. The only way you can change that is for the economy to get better.”
Brown said employees want what is best for staff and students and if any cuts are made Brown said employees want the cuts to be ones that affect students the least.
Alternative Education is one item being considered to lose funding.
“The good thing about Alternative Education is it provides an opportunity for students who don’t do well in high school to get an education and degree in a different setting,” Brown said.
Kiser, who said he had no input on determining the items that made the list, said the board is trying to save money to buy textbooks.
“ With the budgeting needs we are looking at, everything has to be looked at initially and then say this stays. This stays,” he said.
Kiser said he agrees with cutting funding for a few of the items and other items he does not want to do away with.
Kiser said he thinks the board will look and act on each item individually at the board meeting set for 6:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Letcher County School Bus Garage.
Kiser anticipates a standing room only crowd at Monday night’s meeting.
“I’d venture to say this will be a packed house,” he said.