By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
As part of the Madison County’s School Board’s effort to reduce costs, the board will vote Thursday night on whether to cut one or two contract days for every employee of the district, said board chair Mona Isaacs.
The board seeks to reduce a potential draw of $2.84 million from the district’s $4.2 million contingency fund, as outlined by its “worst-case scenario” draft budget adopted in January.
Cutting just one contract day would save the district $235,000, Isaacs said.
There were “quite a few options on the table — some more palatable than taking a day out of the contract,” she said.
However, this cost-saving measure must be considered Thursday night because the board is required to ratify the number of days on the school calendar and notify staff by May 15, she said.
“Teachers won’t be happy, and I don’t blame them,” Isaacs said. “If I was asked to take a day off my salary, I wouldn’t be happy either.”
But, the board sees this cut as a way to “potentially save a lot of jobs and keep people working,” she said.
“It’s huge. It’s overwhelming,” said Stephanie Winkler, Mayfield Elementary teacher and the newly elected president of the Kentucky Education Association.
She said to expect teachers to show up to the Thursday night meeting in large numbers.
“We have very angry and upset teachers who feel very under-appreciated during Teacher Appreciation Week,” said Winkler, who pointed out the irony of the board’s proposal during the nationally recognized week.
The news of the proposed cuts broke Tuesday (on National Teacher Day) in emails sent to teachers by both Winkler and Rhoda Marcum, Kingston Elementary teacher and president of the Madison County Education Association.
“We have already lost three days pay — two teaching days and the parent-teacher conference day,” Marcum said in her email. “I’m glad we have a solvent school district that manages spending and saves money. However, after six years without (local cost-of-living adjustments) and yearly inflation increases, I would like to be solvent and have money in savings.”
Although teachers still receive step and rank pay increases as they obtain master’s degrees and accumulate years of experience, the most recent bump in teachers’ base pay was in 2009, when the state mandated a 1-percent increase.
That increase cost the district between $450,000 to $475,000, but the amount was never reimbursed by the state as promised, Superintendent Tommy Floyd said at the January board meeting.
During a recent work session, the board looked at the number of contracted days for teachers in similar school districts and discovered many teachers are contracted to work 185 days, while Madison County teachers are contracted to work 187, Isaacs said.
For a teacher, depending on their rank on the salary scale, a one-day pay cut would cost the employee $190 to $320 a year, she said. For a custodian, pay may be reduced between $80 to $90 a year and for para-educators, between $69 and $95 a year.
Isaacs said the cuts would not affect instructional days, but the days worked before students return to school or after they leave for the summer.
However, “either way you go, you’re cutting into teacher services,” Winkler said. “We beg for every minute we can have with our students.”
Although teachers have already lost a day of pay for parent-teacher conferences, “we are still made to do them,” she added.
Teachers also question the necessity of the “many, highly-paid central office employees,” she said, who “nobody ever sees in the (school) buildings.”
Furthermore, teachers are concerned about the money spent on out-of-state trips that are not fully-funded by the traveling students and the cost of professional development trips for central office staff and the school board, Winkler said.
The April 2011 decision to increase Floyd’s salary from $138,751 to $155,000 remains a sore spot for teachers, she said.
At the time, other school districts were in the market for new superintendents, and the board did not want him lured away by a district offering higher pay, according to Doug Whitlock, then the board chair.
“I was assured that the new salary is in the mid-range for superintendents of districts our size, so I agreed to it,” board member John Lackey told the Register.
Additionally, some teachers take issue with the fact that many of them make under $40,000 and pay around $20,000 to obtain a master’s degree, while the district paid $35,244 in tuition for Floyd’s doctoral studies, Winkler said.
“Stop creating jobs at the Board Office ($80,000 just this year). This is two teacher salaries,” said Foley Middle School behavior coach Christie Fain-Shanks in an email sent Wednesday to all Madison County teachers, board members and central office employees.
“Cut from the top, not the bottom,” she wrote, among a list of suggestions on ways to save the district money.
Fain-Shanks proposed closing schools every Friday at 3:30 p.m. and not opening them again until Monday morning to save on utility costs.
She suggested the district “fix the school bus routes,” she said. “I see ‘empty’ school busses every day.”
Fain-Shanks proposed to allow summer school only for high school students who are to graduate and to not provide transportation for the summer session.
She also questioned why money was spent on the Madison Central High School sports facility, and not on text books.
Winkler said teachers should have been included in the conversation about cuts before school board members began considering such a “rash decision.”
Acting without teacher input shows “no appreciation for employees that kill themselves for students in this county,” she said. “Everybody must sacrifice something, but we’ve sacrificed all along.”
Teachers also object to other cost-saving measures Winkler was told would be on the table, such as proposed cuts to employees’ dental plan and supply allotments to each schools’ site-based councils.
At the January school board meeting, the district’s chief financial officer Debbie Frazier outlined some upcoming expenses that could “dramatically impact” the budget.
Unemployment historically cost the district around $30,000 annually, she said. That now exceeds $200,000.
Teacher retirement, which was once totally state funded, is projected to cost the district $600,000 in 2013-14; and $1.2 million in 2015-16.
Retirement costs for classified staff also have increased. In 2003-04, the district paid out $470,469. In 2012-13, more than $1.8 million was budgeted.
The January draft budget anticipates a $400,000 decrease in state SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) funding. Last year, the district received around $38 million in SEEK funds, which was $800,000 less than the previous year.
Transportation also is an area that has received less state funding in recent years, Floyd said. In 2004-05, the district faced a $153,659 reduction in state transportation funds. In the 2012-13 budget, that shortfall could be as much as $2.1 million.
But, the loss of state and federal funds has always been an issue, Winkler said. “There’s got to be another way.”
“These are tough times, and we don’t want to reduce staff. We don’t want to end programs … But citizens do not need another tax increase,” board member John Lackey said while discussing the budget at the January meeting. “I’m not a Tea Party person, I can vote for a tax increase, as long as I am satisfied that all of the possible economies have been made, and I don’t think you’ve done it.”
However, Winkler said those tax increases are essential to support the district and its teachers.
“Neighboring counties are stealing fantastic employees out of our district and into theirs,” she said. “This is not the direction we need Madison County Schools to take if we want to attract the best and the brightest employees to serve our students.”
Winkler pointed out that years ago, Fayette County’s superintendent said his top priority was to make a starting teacher’s salary at least $40,000 (starting teachers in Madison County make $35,850).
Winkler said a Rank 1 teacher with 25 years of experience makes $20,000 more in Fayette County than Madison County.
“I couldn’t count on two hands and two feet how many are leaving this county to work in Fayette County,” Winkler said.
She said private schools are “making a killing” in tuition because of inadequacies in public schools.
But, in light of the continuing state and federal funding shortfalls, “we’ve got to save as long as we can and stretch resources as long as we can,” Isaacs said.
She said the board hopes to trim down the $2.84 million deficit as much as possible.
“I don’t think we can get it down to zero, but we can do better,” she said. “I’d be happy to cut that in half at this point.”
However, Winkler pointed out that the Madison school district is fairing better than other districts with a 7 to 8 percent contingency fund and almost $6 million in capitol outlay funds that have been set aside.
Other cuts should be explored before “diving into people’s benefits,” she said.
“For all the extra we put in above and beyond the normal work day — they could pay us all 25 days’ pay and probably still wouldn’t cover all that we do ‘in kind,’” Winkler said.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext 6696.