Board discusses next school year’s operating budget
A projected operating deficit for next school year was again discussed during the Woodford County Board of Education’s March 10 work session. A handout given to board members and people attending the special meeting listed revenues and expenses in a proposed 2020-21 draft budget. If general fund dollars being restricted to pay for a new Woodford County High School ($950,000) were un-restricted and used to pay operating expenses, Chief Operating Officer Amy Smith projects an operating deficit of $300,327 (if the board approves a local property tax rate that generates 4 percent more revenue). Of the general fund dollars being restricted for a high school, Smith said $600,000 would remain in the construction fund to pay architect fees and other expenses unless the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) approves a capital funds request. She said when the board approved BG-1 documents seeking state approval for the high school project in June 2019, she said the initial $600,000 that was attached to the BG-1 became more restricted. However, if KDE approves the capital funds request and that initial $600,000 is also unrestricted by the board, Smith said the projected operating deficit for next school year would be eliminated. “This problem of deficit spending,” board member Sherri Springate said, “… it was only created because we restricted the money for the high school. And once that’s put back in (the general fund) you don’t have that problem ...” “ … The problem is not that we have too many expenditures and not enough income,” she added later. “The problem is that we’re taking from our general fund to set aside for this new high school.” Board Vice Chair Dani Bradley said she’s not advocating to eliminate programs to pay for a new high school. “I was looking at this (review of expenses),” she explained, “as evaluating whether or not it’s a good use of funds – just to clarify.” Hawkins said his administration reviews expenses annually and will recommend ending an incentive program for teachers, which awards them bonuses for good attendance, but did not alleviate the need or the cost of having to use substitute teachers as he’d hoped. “And what we may end up having to do … is turn around and spend that money to increase sub pay,” he said. Hawkins said he would never recommend ending a program like Woodford READS (at a cost of $25,000) that’s beneficial to students if the district was not facing an operating deficit. “Anytime we can put books in the hands of our kids,” he said, “we will do that every time we get the chance.” The board also discussed a projected expense of $102,000 for a summer reading program on Tuesdays and Thursdays for struggling readers. “For struggling kids,” said Hawkins, “it costs more to help move them forward.” He said a lot of the cost is related to providing transportation for students, and if that’s not offered “how many kids then would not be able to be served?” The expense of a summer program offering science and math enrichment opportunities for all elementary students on Wednesdays is $87,700, according to a list of expenses in the 2020-21 draft budget. The proposed draft budget includes a beginning-of-year cash balance that pays operating expenses from July to November 2020, when the district receives most of its local property tax revenue, Smith explained. “We have done this budget the exact same way since Amy’s been here, starting in 2012,” said Hawkins. “We show that in our expenses in the draft budget so that we have operating cash to be able to cover expenses from July until” November. At the close of the work session, Springate requested that Smith provide board members with a total dollar amount spent on the high school project so far. A need for buses, drivers The board learned that the district has 45 regular buses that are available to transport students, but 12 of those buses are over 14 years old and also have higher maintenance costs, according to Smith. Because there were years (in the early-2000s) when the district did not buy any new buses, she said the district’s still trying to recover from that. The proposed budget includes purchasing three new buses. “We just want to continue on the path that we’re on in terms of buying that three per year,” Hawkins said. He said by the end of this year, the district will have five propane fuel buses. It was pointed out during a discussion about propane buses that the district still uses diesel buses for longer trips because there’s a lack of fueling stations. The district plans to build a propane storage tank structure for fueling its buses this year, Hawkins said. The school district currently has 38 bus routes, but needs 42, Smith said. She said a shortage of drivers led to the reduction in routes. “Ultimately, though, I don’t think you (do) not buy buses because you can’t find drivers,” said Hawkins. “I think your goal is how do you recruit more people?” Smith said Transportation Director Kay Penn is trying to recruit new drivers. The district has a total of 51 buses, with one of them out of service and two others too old and unsafe to be used on the road, said Smith. She said three of the 48 usable buses are special needs buses that aren’t available for routes that need 72-passenger buses.