Sup’t. Bearden warns Fayette schools facing up to $20 million in cuts for next year
In a somber “Welcome back” letter to faculty and staff on Aug. 17, Fayette County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden asks for input in figuring out how to slash up to $20 million — or nearly 12 percent — from an already austere school budget for the 2013-14 school year.
The budget for the current school year calls for spending about $177 million but receiving only $163 million in tax revenue. The shortfall this year is being made up by spending almost all the system’s cash reserves.
“We continue to see a decrease of revenue at the local level (property taxes), austerity cuts from the state ($15 million for us this year alone), and declining student enrollment,” Bearden wrote in the letter posted on the system’s website.
“We reduced our expenditures from last year to this year by more than $11 million,” Bearden continued. “To balance this year’s budget, we reduced our work year and benefits for all staff. We also eliminated more than 80 positions throughout the system. We were able to avoid a Reduction in Force, and we protected programs and services for students.
“In spite of all of these cuts, we had to exhaust most of our fund balance,” Bearden wrote. “Unless we see great improvement in the economy that translates to additional revenue for our system, we may have to reduce our budget by as much as $20 million for the 2013-2014 school year. This will be an arduous task; I am asking for your input.”
Bearden said he has formed a task force charged with coming up with additional budget-cutting recommendations. The report is due ”prior to the Christmas break.”
Bearden listed the following as cost-cutting “suggestions” already made and “taken under advisement”:
“• Continue to maximize savings and efficiencies — We will monitor all vacancies and only fill those positions that are deemed critical to our mission. We will continue to be energy efficient and cost efficient with all purchases — last year we increased our fund balance over $7 million by implementing these initiatives.
“• Consider school closures and redistricting — each closed school saves approximately $800,000.
“• Outsource custodial services — anticipated savings is $1 million.
“• Continue to reduce/combine county office positions through attrition. Last year we reduced county office positions and saved $380,000.
“Note — we currently spend $182 per student less than the state average on general administration-source DOE. For example, we are funded for six full-time assistant superintendent positions, but employ only one deputy and one assistant superintendent.
“• Continue to reduce staff in all other categories through attrition — cost savings is dependent upon the number of positions we reduce.
“Note — we currently employ 152 more positions than the state allocates, primarily teachers and counselors. We have reduced the number of certified staff in our system by more than 200 positions since FY’07.
“• Reduce the number of assistant principals to be more in line with the state funding formula for these positions. We currently employ 14 more assistant principals than the state allocates — cost savings is $1.2 million.
“• Additional “shut down days” — each day saves approximately $700,000.
“• Elimination of all 1st grade paraprofessionals — cost savings is $1.2 million.
“• Consolidation of bus routes.
“• Reduce stipends for supplements.
“• Eliminate all middle school athletics — cost savings is $210,000.
“• Salary decrease for all employees. Every one percent reduction in salary will save $1,325,000.
“NOTE — Employees who spoke at a board meeting in the spring of 2011 overwhelmingly preferred “shut down” days to percentage decreases in salary.
“• Consider a tuition policy that would allow students who live outside of Fayette County to attend our schools. This policy can be written to ensure specific guidelines for acceptance, and how a student could lose the privilege of attending our schools.
“• Consider asking our citizens, through a referendum, for an increase in the current millage rate.
“NOTE — Property owners in Fayette County are paying less in property taxes than they did several years ago.
“Members of the Task Force include: Sam Sweat, Chair; Laura Brock; Chris Horton; Linda Beaubien; Lynn Ridgeway; Audrey Toney; Rae Presley-King; Randy Hudson; Louis Robinson; Eddie Pollard.”