FCPS Budget Cuts

Fayette County Public Schools is facing a round of budget cuts for the 2014-2015 school year. Although it does not appear to entail teacher or staff layoffs, it is expected to affect hiring and working hours in the district.

The problem, according to school officials on the FCPS website, concerns grants the district received several years ago. When the school system ran out of grant funds for certain positions or initiatives, it decided to pay for them with its own budget. However, the funds that have been directed to these positions and initiatives have run out.

“It took seven years to get to this point,” Superintendent Tom Shelton said in an e-mail to Fayette County parents. “… we are now in a position where our spending is outpacing our revenue.”

To correct the problem, the school board initially planned to address the issue during a board meeting held on Feb. 24. The Superintendent had proposed a new formula for schools that would have incorporated budget reductions. However, the item was removed from the agenda in the hopes that the issue would be more carefully addressed amongst the public. In particular, school officials were concerned that there were misconceptions about the areas that the cuts would impact.

School programs, including magnet and arts programs, band, orchestra and foreign languages, are not expected to be affected in the current round of cuts. The main focus seems

to be on Fayette County staff. Currently, 89 percent of Fayette County Public School’s budget is devoted to maintaining their salaries and benefits. Effects on students, another concern, are uncertain, but district officials have always stress these would be minimal if any exist.

“We’re not talking about ending programs,” the Superintendent said to press reporters about the cuts.

The effects on programs, schools, and educational philosophy were some of the topics discussed during forums on the budget cuts that invited public attendance and input. The school system held two public forums on March 6 and March 11. Parents, staff, students and school board officials gathered to give input in small group discussions about where they felt the school system could make cuts and what goals and programs they felt the school system should maintain.

“We need to overhaul the way we evaluate programs,” a page on the Fayette County website about the budget read. “The reality is that not only are we spending more money than we have, we are also paying for things that aren’t working.”

A week before these forums, the Superintendent offered to cut his own salary by 5 percent and said he wanted to “share the responsibility for any cuts” across the district so “as few employees as possible” would be affected.The school system has maintained that it will seek to reduce hours and hiring before it seeks layoffs. Current plans predict a 3 percent staffing decrease. Additional cuts will likely be made against district offices.

Some, however, are still not sold on the school district’s planned cuts. In particular, they remain concerned about the impact against staff and academic programs. Parents have pointed to possible alternatives, including eliminating two days from the school year, which could save $10 million — half of the budget gap. Others have criticized the district for constructing a new

high school during the budget crisis. School officials, however, state that these funds were separate from the school’s operating budget.

With these issues, it is unknown what programs will be cut or maintained. The district has until May to present and approve a budget proposal.