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The Shelby County School Board approved Thursday a balanced budget for the 2010-2011 school year, but that’s only the first step in a long and involved process of funding a new season of education in Shelby County.
Facing grim financial times in the state and opening a new high school, the school district has worked through a massive process of belt-tightening, redistributing and planning that appears to have it positioned well for the coming year.
The true impact of state funding and even the student populations at Martha Layne Collins High School and the restructured Shelby County High School and East and West Middle Schools has yet to be felt, but SCPS Superintendent James Neihof said he feels good about the budget process.
“Typically our budget stays close to the first draft,” Neihof said. “Our goal is to be extremely conservative on the revenue stream side, and we’ve done that again this year. However, with the state legislature in such a tough spot, if they do something extreme, we could have to trim some more.”
At first glance it appears the district’s budget is drastically cut this year. The projected revenue – which includes all local and state funding and all savings funds – is just more than $61 million, down about $6.45 million from last year.
And the general fund – which is local, state and federal revenue – is just more than $44 million, down almost $3.4 million from last year.
Though there are certainly cuts in this year’s budget, a quick look at the numbers explains most of those drastic changes.
A more-than-$3 million change in the general fund is mostly because of the new Collins High School. In last year’s budget, $3 million was added to the general fund to pay for the Collins High School Athletics Project. That expense would not be in this year’s budget.
The biggest adjustment in projected revenue also has to do with building. The balance carried forward from the capital outlay and building fund is down nearly $2.3 million after expenses last year.
Some of these changes are easily explained, but it’s important to remember there have been cuts made this year.
This first run is a draft budget. After the General Assembly's session is completed and school districts find out what cuts, if any, the state government has imposed, the district will put together a second tentative budget in late April or early May.
The final working budget would then be approved, with any additional changes, in late September or early October.
Preparing for possible cuts
That gives the district the chance to get students in school and get an average daily attendance to calculate state funding.
Neihof noted the district’s conservative look at state funding, as a way to try to avoid late cuts to the draft budget.
Gov. Steve Beshear has made protecting Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) money a priority, but there remain areas of concern in state funding.
“Part of the state funding stream that is a problem right now [including this year] is the flexible focus funds,” Neihof said.
Those funds include money for preschool, extended school services (ESS), textbooks and family resource centers.
“Those are areas we’ve pretty much had to subsidize out of our general fund escrow,” he said.
To be prepared for state cuts, the district has already gone through and made cuts throughout the budget.
Two big areas the district was able to focus on were property and property services.
The school district has been aggressive in maintaining its bus fleet, and with the opening of Collins, the district actually will be able to reduce the number of buses it needs, which means no new buses would be required next year.
Also, the school has been very aggressive in roof projects –maintenance and repair -- on all the existing schools and was able to scale back significantly for the upcoming school year.
The district will also scale back in some personnel.
Central office will have two fewer positions – spots in which employees have left that will not be filled – and could face further reductions if need be, Neihof said.
“Our staff worked very hard to look at every area that could be trimmed, and I’m very proud of the work they did,” Neihof said. “Our board members have been through some tough times, and they realize how much work went into this.
“The fact that we were able to bring a balanced budget is impressive, and we feel really good about what we have proposed.”
With Collins High School opening next year, the district will have to add some new personnel: a total of 13.25 new classified positions. But most of those positions are jobs that are created by the new school – secretaries, custodial staff and monitors.
Collins will add 14.5 new positions, but reductions at SCHS and the two middle schools will offset that addition by 1.25.
The budget calls for nearly five fewer teachers, but the restructuring and redistricting of the schools allows for some reallocations.
“Our pupil-to-teacher ratio will stay the same in the elementary schools [23.6-to-1]],” Neihof said. “And it will be basically the same at the middle and high school levels [at 25-to-1].”
Both of those numbers are better than the state required ratios.
The biggest change in administrative positions for next year will be the addition of associate principals at both high schools. These new position will give the schools a clear second-in-command when the principal is not in the building.
With new positions and a new school coming, Neihof said the district’s budget is about as tight as it can be.
“There were areas we found that we could cut just $500 or $1,000, but those added up,” he said. “Our staff worked really to look at every area.”
With Shelby County’s budget already very tight, any more reductions from the state could cause problems.
But the board feels it is prepared.
The school board is working with a reserve fund of nearly 8 percent (about $4.2 million), and the state only mandates a 2 percent reserve fund. That extra money could be just what the district needs while the state struggles to maintain funding.
“We’ve made just about as many cuts as we can,” Neihof said. “There are a few things left, but not much. We certainly could go into that reserve fund to make up for any more cuts.”