BoE fiscal policies: Too little, too late

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter to the editor was signed by long-time members of the Fayette County Board of Education, Bob Todd and Marion Key. Key is running unopposed for reelection this year.]

During the Fayette County Board of Education meeting on June 18, the 2012-2013 budget passed by a vote of 3-2, with Marion Key and Bob Todd strongly opposed to the budget as presented.

We have had many community members ask us why we don’t support the budget; so we have outlined some of the key concerns in this letter.

Due to a significant financial crisis, the FCBOE is at a crucial point — a point where tough decisions must be made to ensure the fiscal viability of our education system.

Unfortunately, this year’s budget — for the second year in a row — pulls millions of dollars from the system’s financial reserves. This is akin to paying expected monthly household bills with savings intended for a rainy day.

The glaring question is, why is this being done for the second year?

The answer is that the new superintendent came on board in January of 2011 and proposed using $11 million of reserves with the understanding that a plan to cut expenses and reduce this use of reserves would be presented to the board in the fall. This never happened.

This current budget year calls for reserves of $15 million to be used to cover normal and expected expenses. These two budget cycles reduce our reserves from $26 million as of June 20, 2011 to a projected $800,000 on June 30, 2013.

The reality is that we are a year behind in our decision making — we should have made the tough decisions to cut more, close more, do more months ago.

The biggest cost savings can be realized by closing under-utilized schools.

The community understands this. In the 2011 community survey, the respondents preferred closing schools to cutting programs and services to students, but the board did not follow the community imperative. We are now reduced to fiscal crisis management.

The Fayette County Board of Education is a corporate body which is tasked with being a good steward of the resources entrusted to us by the community.

As such, individual board members are responsible for the financial well-being of the district.

Board members have the authority to accept, modify and or reject recommendations of the superintendent in financial matters. They may also submit alternate recommendations to the Board for consideration.

We do not feel that the administration’s last two years of budget preparation, planning, and oversight has allowed board members to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers of this county.

It also further weakens our ability to maintain a financially viable and quality school district.

In the coming weeks, we will be discussing a proposal by the Superintendent to close and consolidate schools for the 2013-2014 academic year. Again, unfortunately, the proposal is too little, too late and only results in $1.8 million in savings.

The Board has discussed other options including a more aggressive approach that would realize $4.8 million in savings which is still far short of where we need to be.

We are calling on our fellow board members, system employees, and community members to join us in aggressively advocating for immediate changes to realize savings for this year and deep, strategic cuts for next year that maximize student educational opportunities and make the most of our limited resources.

Our next board workshop to discuss these matters is Aug. 6.

Marion Key, Post 3

Bob Todd, Post 4