$53.742 million budget presented to school board
The Woodford County Board of Education will be asked to approve a $53.742 million budget for the current school year at its regular board meeting next Monday. Chief Operating Officer Amy Smith presented the 2016-17 working budget to board members at their planning meeting on Monday, Sept. 19. "We do have a very solid and balanced budget," said Smith. In addition to a general fund of $39.9 million, the budget's funding sources include $3.6 million from special revenue (restricted state and federal grants), $2.94 million in a building fund, $2.7 million for debt service and $2.269 million for food service. The general fund allocates 52 percent of its $39.9 million on school-based and instructional services, while 8 percent gets spent on facilities, 6.4 percent covers student transportation costs, and 7.3 percent pays for district support services and student technology. The working budget includes an expenditure of $425,000 for purchasing four new school buses and a contingency fund of 12 percent or $5.1 million. "Our goal has always been around 8.3 percent so we are a little above that (goal) right at this moment," said Smith. She said the 12 percent contingency was one reason why the district did not seek a property tax rate hike this year. When Smith began her presentation, she pointed out that the district has more information now than when draft and tentative budgets were approved by the board in January and May. However, the school district will not know exactly what it will receive in per-student state funding until next March. "It depends on enrollment and average daily attendance," Smith said. Minority recruitment During his annual human resources presentation, Director of Staff/Student Services Garet Wells gave the board an update on efforts to recruit minority teachers and other prospective employees to the school district. "We recruit all over the state - Northern Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Central Kentucky," Wells told board members. "I feel like we recruit as much as any other district in Kentucky. And I also think it's important to get out of the state, too." Wells cited Nashville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati as larger, more urban areas where he has gone to recruit minority teachers. Of those cities, the district has received more applications from Cincinnati, "so I plan on - in the future - continuing to target that area," he said. The district hosted its most recent jobs fair in April. Sixty-seven prospective employees attended the event, with three being hired by Woodford County schools, according to Wells. He said the district received 2,968 applications for all of its vacant positions during the most-recent hiring season. Of that total, 1,789 applications were received for certified (teaching, counseling and administrative) positions. A majority of the applicants identified themselves as female (1,160) and white (1,592). There were also 33 African-American and 11 Hispanic applicants, Wells said. Board member Sherri Springate said a higher number of applicants from diverse ethnic backgrounds - compared to past years - shows that the district continues to make an effort to recruit minority teaching candidates to Woodford County schools. "It's kind of ebbed and flowed the past few years," said Wells, "but from where we started six years ago it's definitely a significant number more (of minority applicants) than we had." One minority applicant was among the 53 applicants hired to fill certified positions this school year. Overall, 96 percent of the district's certified employees are white and 3 percent are African-American. Of Kentucky's newly certified teachers, counselors and administrators during the most recent year that data was available, the number of African-Americans who received their certifications was 113 - only 3.58 percent of the state's total number of certifications, and an average of less than one candidate per school district. "We as a state just don't produce a real diverse pool (of teaching applicants)," said Wells. He said this diversity issue makes it that much more important for the district to recruit teaching candidates from larger cities outside of Kentucky. Before concluding his presentation, Wells said he attended a statewide conference focused on an impending shortage of educators. He learned that nearly 30 percent of the state's certified school employees can retire now or are very close to being able to retire. One of the issues discussed was this generation of teachers - commonly known as the Millennials - who are much more mobile than previous generations of educators. "As a group," said Wells, "they don't tend to stay in any one place for a very long time. So I think we've got some challenges as a state when it comes to filling some positions going into the future, but I think we're in a pretty good spot." Woodford County schools received about the same number of applications this year as last year, but the district also had more openings in certified positions this year, Wells said. Alternative school program Principal Logan Culbertson and other staffers at Safe Harbor Academy - the district's alternative school program - will visit 13 other alternative programs this year before making decisions on how Woodford County schools' can improve its program in the coming years. After the United Methodist Home moves to a new campus in Jessamine County in about a year, its residents will no longer get an education at Woodford County's alternative program. So Chief Academic Officer Jimmy Brehm described this change in student population as "the right time" to explore what's happening that's successful in other alternative education programs across Kentucky. While a traditional school setting works for most kids, others need to experience school in a different way for them to be successful, Brehm said. "So we think this really gives us an opportunity to really look" at the needs of our students more closely, he added. Potential growth in enrollment The board will be asked at next Monday's regular meeting to approve a restructuring of the job responsibilities for Wells, who will begin the process of developing a plan for how the school district will manage potential student growth. Wells will also explore options for the school district in terms of providing students with additional mental health services to help them with issues "we haven't had to deal with before," Hawkins said. Electronic sign The school board will also be asked to approve the purchase of a new electronic sign at Woodford County High School, which led to a discussion about school signs and who should pay for them. The site-based council at WCHS set aside dollars from its school-allocated funds from a year ago to pay for a new electronic sign being built and installed by Ruggles Sign Company at a cost of $26,604. The current WCHS sign requires someone - typically students - to change messages manually, which could potentially put them in an unsafe situation because of the sign's location between the school entrance and exit lanes. An electronic sign will also enhance communication. Typically, new signs are purchased by the Board of Education when a school undergoes a renovation. Both Simmons and Huntertown got new signs when those elementary schools were renovated. An electronic sign was installed at Woodford County Middle School during its construction. The PTO at Southside Elementary recently raised money to purchase a new sign for its school, which will not be electronic. Northside Elementary, like Southside, has not been renovated since its construction 25 years ago and still has its original sign. Because signs are a part of a school's facility, board members Ambrose Wilson IV and Debby Edelen voiced concern about new signs being purchased with dollars from different sources. A school's administration could ask for dollars from the Board of Education - with a capital funds request - to purchase a new sign. Financial report Woodford County schools began the month of August with a total cash balance of $9.46 million and ended the month with $7.584 million. A payment of $41,637 was transferred from the building fund for the construction of a third traffic lane at Southside Elementary. The additional lane was needed to reduce traffic congestion issues during student pickups and drop-offs. However, during a discussion by board members on Monday, concerns again surfaced about traffic circulation issues at Southside. Parent-motorists apparently are blocking the third lane - designated as an exit lane - before buses are able to exit the school property. "We've got a sign out that says: Do not block," said Smith. "And if we need additional folks out there (to direct traffic), I'll talk to Mr. (Principal Jason) McAllister again." Also during Smith's financial report, board members learned about the district spending $5,975.14 - money available in a One-to-One insurance fund - to pay for repairs on student Chromebook computer tablets. A majority of the repairs were made on Chromebooks issued to students at Woodford County Middle School, according to Director of Technology Bob Gibson. He said about 40 units have been repaired, including some with broken screens. Out-of-state trips In the aftermath of recent bombings in New York City and New Jersey, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins assured board members that the district will continue to monitor the situation before planned school trips to Washington, D.C., and New York City, which are scheduled later in the school year, are allowed to proceed as planned.