• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Hawkins says unrestricting dollars will eliminate deficit

Schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins recommended the Woodford County Board of Education return $2.15 million being restricted for the construction of a new high school to the general fund in order to eliminate an operating deficit. He made that recommendation while presenting his “Prioritization of Budget Expenditures” at Tuesday’s board planning meeting at Woodford County Middle School. He noted the board would need to either rescind or revise its approval of construction documents for a new high school in order to restore general fund dollars. In addition to restoring $600,000 in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 to the general fund, the board would need to return $350,000 to the contingency fund and return $950,000 to the general fund next fiscal year, he said. “We would be back whole, so to speak, by unrestricting the funds and putting our budget back into the position where we were a couple of years ago,” said Hawkins. He said if that action is taken he would recommend the board “put a hold on things and to engage our community … to ask for their input and their thoughts before we move forward” on a new high school. Hawkins said the board needs to hold multiple public forums to give people in the community an opportunity to share “what’s our best path forward as a school district. Because I think our community may have ideas that we’re not aware of,” which elicited applause from parents and teachers at the meeting. Board member Ambrose Wilson IV asked for Hawkins’ recommendations if the board chooses not to un-restrict the dollars being set aside for a new high school. “I’d need to know what level of cuts you want me to make,” said Hawkins. But before any decisions are made to cut the $30 million annual operating budget, Hawkins said he’d need to have some “serious conversations with our staff, with our administrators and with our community ...” In response to Wilson’s question about being able to provide the public with information about “the real consequences of not unrestricting these funds” at the upcoming public forum on March 3, Hawkins said it would take more than a couple of weeks to get input and feedback from the staff and people in the community on potential cuts. Information about potential cuts to programs and services, if the board doesn’t un-restrict general fund dollars, could be presented at subsequent public forums, Hawkins said. Earlier, Hawkins acknowledged a decision by the board to not take a 4 percent non-recallable property tax increase for two consecutive years – before a special election in June 2018 when voters defeated a proposed nickel tax (5.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value) to pay for a new high school – has also had a financial impact on the school district. That action resulted in a loss of $1.08 million in revenue annually, “which is also very near the amount of the deficit that you’re projecting,” said board Vice Chair Dani Bradley. Hawkins said his prioritization document placed all expenditures in three identified subsets, which he said “took a tremendous amount of time on behalf of the district staff …” Edelen described seeing what the school district spends on programs, services and salaries as valuable to the board and people in the community. “I think it’s important for the public to know how we’re spending our money,” she said. Graduation date The board voted to allow Woodford County High School’s administration to make a decision on when graduation is held, which has been customary. The board also received some good news from Hawkins. After conversations with officials at the Kentucky Horse Park (where the ceremony is held) related to miscommunication issues, Hawkins said, “They have been agreeable to allowing a fourth graduation on Saturday.” So WCHS will be able to have its 2020 graduation ceremony Saturday, May 23, at 9 a.m. (rather than Friday night or Sunday) before Anderson County High School’s graduation at 11:30. “I know it’s a little early,” acknowledged Hawkins, “but it’s only one hour earlier than last year.” After board member Allison Richardson’s motion that the board make the decision on the graduation date died for a lack of a second, she voted no on Bradley’s motion to allow the high school to continue making that decision, which passed 4 to 1. Closed session The board voted unanimously to go into executive session to discuss pending litigation at the start of the meeting. The board stayed in closed session for nearly an hour before returning to begin its regular agenda. At the close of the meeting, board member Sherri Springate asked that an action item be placed on next Monday’s agenda to approve a procedure that executive sessions be conducted at the end of a meeting.

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