Describing an almost daily flurry of emails from Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Commissioner Jon Draud's office, Rubado summed up the final guidance they received on Dec. 31 for the board. KDE said to plan to reduce textbook allocations by 28 percent, and to plan on having all textbook purchasing suspended next year along with math purchases.
Additionally, KDE has not yet provided guidance on how much Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funds will be available for the next budget. SEEK funds from the state provide money for most of the district's general fund and are based on average daily attendance. Rubado said that KDE is discussing cutting SEEK funding next year and inserted a 1 percent, or $200,000 reduction, in the draft budget.
Rubado told the board that if SEEK is reduced by 4 percent, which is possible, it would cost the district almost $800,000. "Any reduction in SEEK would mean lost positions," said Rubado. A 4 percent cut would mean 18 teaching positions could be lost. Board member Tom Blankenship said, "It looks like a 4 percent cut would be devastating."
At the same time, KDE is discussing reducing the amount of SEEK funding it would send to districts, Rubado noted that a mandated 1 percent increase in school employee salaries is still being projected. In Lincoln County, that would add more than $400,000 to the budget. To compound the problem, state-mandated salary increases apply to food service workers.
The bad news continued as Rubado said there might be reductions in state grants for Gifted and Talented programs, preschool programs, Read to Achieve, Commun-ity Education, and Family and Youth Resource centers. Cuts to Family and Youth Resource centers would come with a social cost since those organizations are critical to providing support to families most impacted by tough financial times.
Rubado introduced the evening's most vexing issue by saying that a proposed change to the district's meal charge policy "was essential to sustain our Food Service program for our students and staff." The draft budget had $213,000 in cuts for food services taken out of salaries and supplies. The budget contained no funds for new equipment or a contingency for equipment repair.
Despite Rubado's warning, the board did not accept the proposed change to the meal charge policy as written. The proposed change would allow students to charge only five meals before they began receiving an alternate meal. When asked, Food Service Supervisor Ty Howard told the board that the alternate meal would not meet USDA standards. Board member Eddie Whittemore was adamant that he would not support the proposal saying, "I could not sleep at night knowing that all some kids got to eat was a sandwich and a drink for lunch and toast for breakfast. I want to be clear; I think it would be an awful mistake to take food away from the kids."
The board members struggled to craft an alternative, and after two motions died due to lack of a second, they finally agreed to rewrite the policy to allow students to charge five lunches and 10 breakfasts, which is actually more than they can now. The board will suspend enacting their decision for one month until a new automated phone communication system can come on line that will notify parents when their child begins charging meals.
Before going into an executive session, the board heard a presentation by the Lincoln County High School Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU). TATU was pivotal in getting tobacco banned in the courthouse, and were at the school board to support the first reading of a change to the district's tobacco policy. The change would ban all smoking at any time on school property, including outdoor events. TATU presented survey results that indicated a high level of support for the proposal.
Since this was the first meeting of the year, board members were sworn in and then they elected Jim Kelley to serve another term as chairman, Tom Blankenship to serve as vice chairman, Gail Isaacs as secretary, Gwen Rubado as treasurer and Stephanie Wilcher as board attorney.