Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Governor’s proposal could benefit WC schools

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
A budget proposal made by Governor Steve Beshear last week could give much needed relief to money strapped school districts across the state, but those educational expenses will come at a cost to other services.
“At first glance, if you’re in education, you have to be very appreciative of the Governor’s proposal,” said Pete Galloway, the interim superintendent of Webster County Schools. “Right now we are really taking a look at our budget for next year. It’s tight. Really tight.”
As things stand at the moment, Webster County could be looking at some major internal cuts.
“We must answer a fundamental question: Does Kentucky march aggressively into the future, or do we cower under the covers as the world leaves us behind?” Governor Breshear asked. “Do we lead, or are we too afraid to even follow? This budget proposal clearly gives my answer: We can and we must build a more vibrant Kentucky. And this proposal provides the road map to do just that.”
Gov. Beshear’s proposed 2014-2016 biennial budget increases per-pupil K-12 funding to its highest level ever; restores damaging cuts to teacher training, textbooks, school safety and Extended School Services; expands preschool services to more than 5,100 more children; dedicates funds to expand high-speed broadband access throughout the state; uses “agency bonds” for the first time ever to invest in the campuses of Kentucky’s two-year community and technical colleges; restores funding to desperately needed child-care assistance programs that help parents stay employed; and builds a $24 million advanced manufacturing training center that will supply workers to the auto industry and other sectors.
One proposed change is spending $36 million over the biennium to expand preschool services to serve 5,125 more 4-year-olds by increasing eligibility from 150 percent of the poverty level to 160 percent. This is a 22 percent increase in enrollment.
“I wish preschool served every child,” said Galloway. “It is very important in their development.”
In his State of the Commonwealth address earlier this month, the Governor signaled his intentions to cut other areas of state government to fund education, although he said Tuesday that he was “painfully aware” of what those cuts would do.
The challenge, he said, was that moderate projected increases in revenue are not sufficient to cover the growth in required expenses and maintenance of current levels of services. As a result, Gov. Beshear recommended $98.6 million in cuts over the biennium. Many agencies will see reductions of five percent in the first fiscal year, then a straight-lined (no increase or decrease) budget for the second year. Since 2008, many of those agencies have seen their budgets slashed by 41 percent. These cuts could lead to delays in service, loss of federal funds, possible facility closures, and even possible layoffs.
“Imagine running a business and being told to maintain the same level of services while slashing your budget 41 percent. That is a difficult and sometimes impossible task,” said Gov. Beshear.
He recommends investing $189 million over the biennium into SEEK, bringing per pupil spending to its highest total ever.
That allocation will include pay increases for all teachers and classified school personnel (two percent the first year, one percent the second year).
“Our teachers have not had a raise in five years,” Galloway explained. “Governor Beshear has proposed two percent and one percent increased to salary, if he can fund it. Our teachers deserve a raise. The cost of living and the cost of doing everything else has gone up. Our teacher’s salaries have not.”
The governor also seeks to spend $95.4 million over the next two years for textbooks, professional development, school safety and Extended School Services (restoring funds to near-2008 levels)
According to Galloway, the school now has $14,000 worth of funding for the Safe Schools program. Prior to the 2008 downturn that program was at around $50,000.
Gov. Beshear’s proposed education investments also include:
•$50 million for technology and school equipment upgrades, funded through General Fund-supported bonds 
•$100 million for school facilities construction to replace aging K-12 school buildings through General Fund-supported bonds

At the moment these proposals are in the hands of state legislators. Only time will tell how much of what Governor Beshear has proposed will get adopted. For the time being school districts like Webster County have to push forward with levels as they are now.
“It’s always good to hear when there is a possibility of having additional funds to run our school system,” said school board vice chairman Mickey Dunbar. “Webster County can always put the money to good use.  While we currently have enough money to operate, expenses are rising faster than our income to offset them. If this continues, the only choices we have will be to trim or eliminate programs we offer.  This is something we don’t want to do, but may be forced to.  Districts across the state, ours included, eagerly await the outcome of the Governors proposal. I would encourage everyone to contact their local legislators and express their support for the budget submitted by the Governor.”
On Monday night Superintendent Pete Galloway gave board members their first look at the 2014-2015 school budget.

No comments:

Post a Comment