Feeling the pinch

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Proposed state budget cuts likely felt locally

By Jesse Osbourne

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear issued a stark address to the state on Jan. 17, indicating cuts will come to agencies across the board.

While the budget is just a proposal now, Washington County shouldn’t expect to come away unscathed after the budget has passed.
One area that will continue suffering is education.
Beshear noted in his address that SEEK funding (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky), measured in per-student funding, has slipped back to the same level as 2008.
SEEK funding, according to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) website, is “a formula driven allocation of state-provided funds to local school districts. The formula includes funding for transportation costs and special needs students as reported by districts.”
Robin Cochran, superintendent of Washington County Schools, said SEEK funding for the 2011 school year is $1.5 million less than SEEK funding for the 2008 school.
With the cuts, Cochran said it would affect programs at the local level.
“Anytime that you reduce funding amounts, we have to look at programming and services,” she said. “When you compare SY08 to SY11 and see a decrease of $1.5 million, it requires all of our decisions to be data-based and specific according to needs – not wants.”
Some money that has been available in the past won’t be available any longer, she said. Expenses have gone up, as well, she said.
“We are paying a higher percentage of the health care costs, higher utilities, our stimulus monies have ended and the Edujobs money is not available next year to supplement,” she said.
In his address, the governor also noted that Kentucky recently jumped 20 spots in Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report.
Kentucky ranked 14th among the 50 states in overall assessment of key education indicators, he said.
“Folks, that’s a jump of 20 spots in one year,” he said. “And it occurred primarily because of investment and policy direction in our accountability system, teacher training, college/career readiness and stronger academic standards.”
With the budget currently proposed, he said, that progress is in jeopardy.
“The best policy in the world won’t matter if we retreat on funding our basic instruction,” he said.
“It is very concerning to me that the Governor himself believes that our progress toward SB1 (Senate Bill 1) will be hampered,” Cochran said. “It is disheartening to think the leaders, that are leading all school districts, even think there is a possibility that we may go backward.”
According to the KDE website, Senate Bill 1 addresses many areas: “what will be tested, how subjects will be tested, when tests are given, what should comprise the public school accountability system and more.”
Beshear also noted that $100 million was set aside in the budget for school facility bonds for improvements to deteriorating buildings.
“Now, a recent assessment of 485 of Kentucky’s school facilities identified the need to spend $3.7 billion to repair or improve those buildings,” he said. “Obviously, $100 million won’t cover that need. But it’s a start.”
Washington County High School and Washington County Elementary School are listed among the 485 properties.
According to the assessment, the budget costs to repair Washington County High School and comply with Kentucky standards is $10.9 million.
According to the assessment legend, “the assigned costs are based on national average costs to bring a building, system, component, or program into compliance with state standards, guidelines or best practices. It is not a detailed estimate.”
The projected “current replacement value” for Washington County High School is $21.3 million.
That number, according to the assessment legend, “represents the total cost of rebuilding or replacing an existing facility with the same gross square footage.”
“It uses national averages, including RSMeans, to rebuild the same functional type of facility with an optimal state-of-the-art condition under current codes and construction standards and techniques,” according to the assessment legend.
The cost to repair and comply with standards for Washington County Elementary School is $5.5 million, according to the assessment.
The current replacement value for the building is $10.6 million.
Cochran said she recently listened to Roger Marcum, a former superintendent that is currently the executive vice-president at St. Catharine, speak to the Central Kentucky Education Cooperative.
She noted that Marcum had been in education for 37 years and currently serves on the Kentucky Board of Education.
“He explained that this was the most challenging and most difficult time he has ever seen in terms of being expected to lead (as a superintendent) with higher expectations and fewer resources than any other time in his educational career,” Cochran said.
Cochran said she agrees, and resourcefulness is becoming trickier all the time.
“I must agree, that even though I have only been doing this two-and-a-half years, it is getting increasingly more difficult to ‘pull rabbits out of a hat’  and make resources match needs,” she said.
Despite the stark news, Cochran remained optimistic.
“I truly believe that in Washington County we are all working as smart and efficiently as we know how, and we will continue to keep the future of our kids on the front burner through the struggling economic times,” she said via email.
Higher education will take a 6.4 percent cut under the proposed budget.
Bill Huston, president of St. Catharine College, said the cuts haven’t affected private colleges like St. Catharine so far.
“Our main concern was the protection of the financial aid programs, both state and federal, that support our students,” he said. “At the present, with the 6.5 percent reduction, the financial aid programs are still untouched for private colleges and public.”  
As a private college, St. Catharine’s budgets are “self-generated and not state-funded,” he said.
“We are very concerned to keep both state and federal funding for all of our financial aid programs,” Huston said. “This would be the highest priority of all universities and colleges.”
Beshear’s proposed budget also includes a 15 percent ($49.1 million) cut to tourism, arts and heritage.
Kathy Elliott, the city project manager and administrative staff for the Springfield Tourism Commission, said her review of the cuts don’t indicate any effect on local dollars.
“The way we could be affected is through any grant funds the city might wish to apply for in the future with any of these agencies (that fall under the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet). Those pots of money for funds may be cut,” she said.
State economic development is proposed to take a nearly 22 percent cut in funding ($28.5 million) in fiscal year 2012.
Hal Goode, the Springfield Washington County Economic Development Authority executive director, said how local economic development will be affected is still unclear.
Goode said he has upcoming meetings about the subject and should know more then.
Beshear noted that the Department for Community Based Services would receive an increase in funding.
“This budget not only exempts this department from the 8.4 percent cuts, it increases funding by nearly $21 million to hire more social workers and support staff,” he said in his budget address.
“Governor Beshear’s proposed budget includes $10.8 million in FY 13 (fiscal year 2013) and $9.9 million in FY 14 (fiscal year 2014) in increased General Funds for 300 additional positions in the Department for Community Based Services,” Anya Weber, information officer for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said. “The proposal would provide additional front-line workers, including child and adult protective service workers, as well as benefits workers to address increases in abuse and neglect investigations, out-of-home care populations and ongoing case management, as well as allow more efficient processing of benefit applications.”
Beshear said the funding is a step in reducing “dangerously high case-loads from an average of 20 per case worker to an average of 18 per worker, and from 1,000 on average to 800 for family support staff.”
“Our social workers and support staff perform at high levels in a very difficult job, but there are simply too few of them,” he said.
Locally, it’s not clear if the average social worker has a high caseload.
“The department monitors caseload averages on an ongoing basis to accommodate any local conditions that might change and require further assessment of staffing needs,” Weber said.
If the budget passes the General Assembly, Weber said, the new funds will be available on July 1, 2012.