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Letcher board warned of tough choices ahead if budget cuts do come

The Letcher County Board of Education may have to make some painful financial decisions if it suffers major budget cuts.

That’s the message Roger Martin, the school district’s finance officer, delivered to the school board at its January meeting.

Martin said the school district may suffer a 6.75 percent decrease in all state funding during the current school year. The cuts would affect the district’s Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) allocations.

“For every one percent cut, that would mean a $158,000 decrease,” said Martin. “If they do a 6.75 percent reduction our contingency (fund) will be just about wiped out.”

The school system already will receive $600,000 less in SEEK allocations, Martin said.

Martin said it is hard to plan a draft budget for fiscal year 2009-10 when he does not know exactly how much money will be cut.

“I’ve never seen so many unknowns to be between legislative sessions,” said Martin. “It’s the worst year to plan a budget.”

Martin said local property tax collections are down this year. He said the sheriff’s department has not been able to collect as much money in taxes this year as it has in the past.

“It appears that we are $100,000 behind in what we collected at this time last year,” said Martin.

He said the food service department has already spent half of its budget and expects to be in a deficit of $50,000 to $75,000. Cora Sturgill, food service director, said the board already increased meal prices at the beginning of the school year and does not plan on increasing meal prices again anytime soon. Martin said high food costs “is what was eating us alive.”

Martin said the district has 50 less special education students than last year, which will result in additional financial loss which must be addressed.

He said the district will most likely not spend $200,000 of the $500,000 budgeted for diesel fuel for this school year, but that the cost of utilities has greatly increased and will probably require $60,000 more than was budgeted. Martin predicts that the school system will end the current school year with $1.6 million in its general fund.

Martin said he knows that the budget for the 2009-10 school year will have to include a one percent salary increase and that all employees will move up one year in experience which will cost the district $177,000 for certified staff and $52,000 for classified staff.

He said the county retirement match for classified employees is increasing from 13.5 percent to 17.37 percent which will cost the district $110,000.

Martin said if the board doesn’t make any adjustments and if expected cuts do in fact happen, the district’s contingency fund for 2009-10 fund would fall to about $100,000.

“There will be some painful decisions to be made in the future,” he said, encouraging the board not to purchase any new school buses next year.

“Utility costs are continuing to increase,” said Martin. “And it gets worse from there. Let’s just wait and see. We’ll make it. We have to make it.”

Martin said the worst case scenario would be that the district would have a hard time providing just the basic programs.

“It’s depressing when a school district is seeing success and all of your support programs — all of the things that have contributed to that success — may go to the wayside,” Supt. Anna Craft observed.

Martin said the district might be able to get money from the proposed federal stimulus package. He said he found a website calculating that the school district could receive $611,000 for Title I funding, $428,000 for special education funding, and $1,526,000 for construction during the first year, and $811,000 for Title I funding and $490,000 for special education in the second year of the stimulus plan.

In other business at the board’s January meeting, Letcher Elementary Principal Carolyn Spangler presented Martin with a check for $5,000 from Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program to renovate the school’s tennis courts and cre- ate an outdoor classroom.

The board also learned that Supt. Craft has been named the 2008-09 Kentucky Music Educators Association’s Administrator of the Year for her involvement in strengthening music education in the school district. Craft is the first-ever recipient of the award. She will be recognized at an awards presentation ceremony in Louisville on February 6.

The board also:

• revised the 2008-2009 school calendar to make Monday, February 16 (Presidents’ Day) and Tuesday, May 19 (Election Day) regular school days. As of Monday the district had missed 12 days of school because of inclement weather or water problems. Ten of those days were termed “banked days.” Two days were left to be made up.

• elected Will Smith as chairman of the board and Terry Cornett as vice chairman.

• named Linda Bennett, preschool bus driver at West Whitesburg, employee of the month.

• approved reimbursing the Letcher County cheerleading team up to $1,000 to participate in state level competition in Bowling Green on February 14.

• approved Standard Life as the vendor for boardpaid life insurance for all full-time employees at an annual premium of $11,489.

• approved use of the Whitesburg High School cafeteria for Zumba dance/ aerobic classes taught by Bethany Justice four nights a week.

• approved a request by Kim Slone to use the West Whitesburg Elementary School cafeteria for a birthday party with inflatable bounce houses.

• approved continuation of a service agreement with ASAP Consulting, of Pikeville, to provide onsite drug screening services. Urine screen on-site services cost $23.50 per 150 tests.

• appointed Linda F. Setzer as board secretary for the 2009 calendar year at a rate of $5,000 per year.

• approved the financial report, payment of bills and transfers and payment of salaries for January 2009. Roger Martin, district finance officer, reported the general ledger balance of having $3,644,482.89.

• approved the termination of Amanda Black as the cheerleading coach at Letcher County Central High School, accepted the resignation of Frances Rayburn as a custodian at Cowan Elementary School, and accepted the retirement of Shirley McLean as an account clerk at central office.

• accepted the employments of Cassie Whitaker as a teacher at Letcher County Central High School, Darrell McBee as a district-wide custodian, and Chastity Fox as a program assistant II for the Save the Children program at Beckham Bates Elementary School.

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