In 24 hours, Kentucky public schools have been notified of two significant issues regarding school district finance. Superintendent Gary Fields emailed all employees on September 8, regarding the potential impact to Bowling Green Independent Schools.
At 12:30 p.m. CT, on Friday, September 8, Dr. Stephen Pruitt, Commissioner of Education called an emergency SKYPE meeting with all Kentucky superintendents. The meeting was to notify school districts that State Budget Director John Chilton has called for a 17.4 percent reduction of all agencies, thus, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) faces a $69,000,000 cut for the current fiscal year.
Although, the state intends to protect the SEEK funding, school district’s primary source of funding, a cut of this magnitude to KDE will create challenges for all school districts. If reductions are made to all funds that flow from the Department of Education to Bowling Green Independent Schools, the district could face a cut as large as $450,000 for the current school year.
Adding to the challenges for all Kentucky school districts, yesterday, on September 7, the State Budget Director sent a letter regarding an increase in contributions to the County Employee Retirement System (CERS) for next school year. CERS is the pension fund for classified or non-teaching district employees. Currently, Bowling Green Independent Schools contributes 19.18% of classified employee salaries to CERS for their retirement. This is equal to $1,196,131. Next year, school districts will be required to contribute 28.86% of salaries, which is an increase of approximately $651,852 to total $1,806,827.
These two issues facing school districts are in addition to any type of pension reform that is being discussed at the state level.
More than 75% of most school district budgets are allocated in personnel. This leaves the remaining funding to pay for operational costs such as utilities, supplies, insurance, etc. Both notifications this week are significant to all school districts, especially for the current school year and will result in very difficult conversations in the coming weeks.
Superintendent Gary Fields shared information received from the state and concluded his email to all employees stating, “This information reinforces the fact that all 625 of us must have a voice in how our state moves forward with educational funding. Silence on our part will result in more of the same. I hope you will join me and be heard on these matters.”