By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
When it adopted a “worst-case” scenario 2013-14 draft budget in January, which would draw $2.84 million from its $4.2 million reserve, some Madison County School Board members said the district was not doing enough to cut expenses.
“We keep avoiding having to face the issues of what to cut in order to bring our budget into balance,” board member John Lackey said at Thursday’s meeting.
Board chair Mona Isaacs said the district’s staff has been working on some proposals for cuts, which would be addressed in upcoming work sessions.
Just this week, Eastern Kentucky University’s regents approved a staff reduction plan, part of the university’s effort to cut its budget by 10 percent. Lackey said the school district should be on a similar track.
“Here we are, late March, and Eastern has already taken care of it,” Lackey said.
“We’re not Eastern,” replied Superintendent Tommy Floyd.
“Well, we should be like Eastern in that regard. This is way too late in the year. I have this feeling it’s more fun to go to Finland than it is to address these unpleasant decisions about cuts. Tells us what you’re doing. I’d like to know right now,” Lackey said.
Lackey was referring to Floyd’s recent trip to Finland, which was part of his doctoral studies in educational leadership. Payment of his $35,244 tuition, over three fiscal years, was included in Floyd’s employment contract. Travel expenses were included in the amount, said Erin Stewart, the district’s community education director.
“It is a pretty standard – not uncommon – practice for boards of education to pay tuition for advanced education for superintendents,” said Erin Stewart, the district’s community education director.
After Lackey’s comment about Floyd’s recent trip to Finland, Isaacs said, “I think that’s an unfair characterization. That’s very disrespectful.” Board member Becky Coyle agreed.
“It makes the point. I’m trying to be emphatic here,” Lackey said. “I’ve tried to be polite for many, many months and I don’t get any response … Nobody is willing to really give us hard facts and dollars about what’s going to be saved and what’s not going to be saved.
“If I have to make that kind of remark in order to get somebody’s attention, I’ve got to do it,” he said. “Come on, let’s hear something back Tom,” Lackey said to Floyd. “Where are the cuts going to be made?”
“We have said it several times – and you’re just making a show of yourself – we have work sessions planned to get these things under control, and you know that,” Coyle said. “That’s why we have all these meetings scheduled.”
But Lackey said a meeting about “goals” was unnecessary.
“But without a foundation of goals about what we’re trying to accomplish ...” Isaacs started to say until interrupted by Lackey.
“No, no, no,” he said. “The goals are in the vision and the mission statements of the school board and what everybody believes. We’ve got to turn out kids who can write a paragraph without a lot of grammatical errors. We’ve got to let them understand that they’ve got to be good citizens and stay out of juvenile court – those are the goals. We don’t need to spend a day talking about academic ideas.”
Isaacs said making financial decisions in the manner Lackey suggested was “irresponsible.”
“We are not just a business,” Isaacs said. “We are here to educate our students and make sure they contribute to the economic growth of this region. I firmly disagree with you ... we are not just a tax-collecting entity that has no other goals or mission than to cut our expenditures.”
“Yes, we know we need to cut expenditures,” she continued. “We will cut expenditures. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are a board of education, not a board of tax spenders.”
Lackey said he had a feeling the board was “a tax and spend group” that is not really interested in making cuts but would rather “talk about the good things we’re doing here instead of the harsh realities....”
“We want to talk in terms of, ‘Oh gosh, we need to be careful about kids who are at risk … build some more restrooms at Foley Middle School.’ That sort of thing is just wasting time to avoid making the hard decisions about the line items in the budget. That’s what we got to do,” he replied.
Earlier in the meeting, a mother with the Foley Middle School football boosters flanked by Foley’s football and baseball coaches, requested a locker room and storage facility be constructed closer to the school’s practice fields.
Smith said students must walk across parking lots “where high school students drive” to access restrooms in the locked school.
Players also do not have a place to take shelter during inclement weather, she said. And some coaches must haul the team’s equipment to every practice and store it in their own homes.
“For the safety and well-being of our children, the satisfaction of our coaches, the decreased frustration from the parents and preservation of our equipment, we are asking the board to consider building a locker room area, bathroom facilities and equipment storage,” Smith said.
Floyd said he would contact the school’s principal the next day.
After his last comment about the Foley request, Isaacs told Lackey, “I take offense to your characterization of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
“I don’t know what ‘we’ is. I’m part of the ‘we’ – I think Mrs. Renfro agrees with me. I don’t know whether the rest of you do or not,” Lackey shot back. “You may be ones that like to characterize yourselves as fiscal conservatives but when it gets right down to making a cut and avoiding a tax increase, I don’t know what you’re going to do in all of this.”
Board member Mary Renfro did agree with Lackey, she said. “We do have to make cuts. I know we do, because we can’t push it back on the taxpayers.”
“But we can’t do it for show at a board meeting,” Coyle said. “We have to go to work sessions and look at reasons why we’re spending this money, and if we want to continue spending that money. We can’t just say it.”
Board member Beth Brock agreed.
“We need to look at those programs, the accomplishments, the goals of those programs and do our due diligence with this,” Brock said. “We can’t just willy-nilly start axing things. We have to do what’s best for our kids.”
Lackey suggested adding more budget meetings to the board’s schedule.
“We have at least 50-percent more meetings this year than we had in the past, set up just so we can do things like this,” Coyle said. “So, you might need a copy of that agenda.”
But Lackey said there were not enough meetings between now and August to accomplish the board’s task.
The board’s next work session is March 28 at 6 p.m. at Central Office.
k12.ky.us under “Board of Education” for a complete list of upcoming meetings.
See Sunday’s Register for a second story about Thursday’s board meeting.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.