School sytem cuts jobs

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With many looming budget cuts on the federal and state levels, Magoffin County Schools face heavy cuts that will inevitably cost the school system some jobs.

While the problem has been building over the last several years, following in the economy’s footsteps, the big hits to the budget started in the middle of the last school year, Magoffin County Schools Superintendent Joe Hunley said.

In January $194,000 was cut out of SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) funds, which had already been allocated, leaving the school system to absorb the missing funds.

Professional Development funds have already taken a 50 percent cut. Just last month the school system was told the Class Size Reduction grant will be cut roughly $46,000 and the Flexible Focus grant has been cut around 70 percent over the last few years. Title 1 has been cut $16,507 from last year. Several more grants have been slashed or completely eliminated over recent years and the general fund cannot sustain the current costs of running the system.

Though the funds are being cut heavily, some things are always increasing, Hunley said. Fringe benefits for employees, utilities, and fuel costs are constantly on the incline.

“We’ve known for a while that we are overstaffed and have to get down within our means,” Hunley said. “Maybe more adjustments should have been done last year, but now is the time to make adjustments because of the funding.”

Hunley said, “When 80 percent of the budget goes to salaries, unfortunately that’s the only way you can save it and that’s people.”

Hunley expects the individual schools to see some impact, but the district will take the brunt of the cuts. Many district-wide services will be shifted down to the school level and some teacher contracts will not be renewed.

The school system generally has around 415-420 full-time employees, but with the current cuts, those numbers are hovering just under 400, with non-renewed employees already notified by letters, according to Hunley.

Also, fewer teachers decided to retire this year, leaving fewer positions available for first-year employees.

Another factor of these job cuts is the end of the stimulus funds. While some schools decided to use stimulus money to create jobs, now that those funds will not be coming into the budget, those positions cannot be covered. 

Even with the cuts, Hunley said the schools will still be sufficiently staffed to take care of instruction, but positions above and beyond necessary will not be funded anymore.

The state average of spending per pupil runs between $10,000 and $11,000. Magoffin County Schools spends over $13,000 per student, which covers all costs associated (insurance, instruction, supplies, etc.).

Hunley said Magoffin provides a supplemental student accident plan, which costs the school system $36,000-$37,000 a year. Though the board is not required to provide this, he hopes they can keep this coverage for the students, but this is the only insurance plan they have the legal option of cutting if further budget cuts put a strain on the school system.

Coal severance cut payments for the technology purchase that brought the LCD televisions to the schools for instruction, leaving the general fund to pay the whole payments, instead of half the cost. Though Hunley said they have only one more payment left on that loan, footing the whole bill had hurt the budget.

Some factors are still unforeseeable at this time, as well. The average daily attendance was up during the 2010-2011 school year, which may make the school system eligible for more funding, but grants can be cut mid-year after the money has been allocated and spent. The general fund cannot absorb those cuts as it has in years past and Hunley said it is time for “belt-tightening moves.”

The federal level does not approve its budget until September 30, leaving the board up in the air on how much federal funding to expect.

While the reconciliation numbers read at the board meetings may seem high, Hunley warned most of the funds are restricted and cannot be used for salaries. For instance, the construction funds can only be used for building improvements and construction. Even if there is a surplus in the individual budgets, these funds can only be used for their allocated purposes.

Board members John Montgomery and David Smith would not comment on the issue Tuesday, and members Tim Watkins, Carl Howard and Caroline Isaac could not be reached for comment.

The school board was scheduled to meet Wednesday evening after press time.