Survey says … Fayette BoE $10 million short


It is a matter of not having enough funds beginning July 1, 2012 to operate the Fayette

County School System. Expected to come up short by potentially $10 million, the school system has placed a community survey on its website to solicit opinion on several of the ways that might be used to either generate new revenues or reduce spending.

The results of the survey will be presented to the Fayette County Board of Education at its Sept. 19 meeting.

Available now on the school system’s website at www.fcboeorg, the survey intended for all Fayette County residents begins with the statement that the “Fayette County Public School System is facing a possible $10 million deficit for the 2012-2013 school year. The Fayette County Board of Education budget is approximately 90 percent personnel. By state law, the board must balance its budget.”

Superintendent Jeff Bearden in addressing the survey told board members at an Aug. 29 called meeting that the intent of the limited number of questions was to obtain community input on the larger issues. Bearden noted that the survey questions do not represent his recommendation, but rather are intended to solicit community feedback.

The survey’s initial statements noted that the school board is exploring various revenue generating and cost saving measures to help balance next year’s budget. “We are asking all stakeholders for their input on these ideas. Data from this survey will be used to guide the board as it makes budget decisions for the 2012-2013 school year. If none of the options presented in this survey are pursued, the Fayette County Board of Education may need to reduce the current operating, instructional, and personnel lines in the budget,” the survey said.

The point was also made at the meeting that personnel issues would have to be addressed even if all the survey items were implemented since those totals do not reach the $10 million threshold.

The first question on the survey asks if qualified out-of-county students should be allowed to attend Fayette schools provided they pay a tuition equal to what county taxpayers contribute. The proposal includes that idea that only schools that have available seat space would be open to tuition students.

Qualifications for attendance are proposed to include meeting both academic and behavioral guidelines.

As for the financial impact, that number is currently unknown since it would depend on the number of students accepted for enrollment. That said, what is known is that the state funds, approximately $4,000 per student per year, would follow the students to Fayette County. The other portion, the balance of the $7,000-8,000 of total revenue, would be expected to be made up by the tuition charge.

Another survey question pertains to the idea of closing two elementary schools in order to open the new Rivers Elementary as a K-5 school, though there was some brief discussion about the potential for closing a middle school.

Any closures would comes with two aspects. On the one hand, closing two schools would save the school system approximately $800,000 per year. On the other, closures would require that school boundaries be re-worked.

The following survey question is similar, pertaining to the closure of one middle school, expected to save approximately $1 million per year. If implemented, the closure of a middle school would also require adjustment to attendance boundaries.

Bearden said high schools are currently at 90 percent capacity while elementary schools, with two closures, would be at 90 percent capacity. Middle schools are currently at 70 percent capacity, so closing one would result in 90 percent capacity, the board was told.

The issue with capacity is that Fayette County’s student enrollment has been falling since 2007 and that decrease appears to be continuing this school year. Enrollment today is close to the level is was at in 2002.

Bearden at the meeting addressed the need to “right size” the school system to reflect the realities of decreasing enrollment, It is a decrease, Bearden said, that is projected to continue at least for the short-term.

Board member Janet Smola during the discussion noted that the intent of the school board in previous years was to have schools at 80 percent capacity.

“So this flies in the face of that strategy to take us to 90 percent,” Smola said. “Desperate economic times lead to desperate measures.”

Another survey question pertains to having a shorter academic year by reducing the number of days in the school calendar. State-required instructional hours would be maintained while using a combination of adjusting the length of the school day, adjusting the school week and/or reducing vacation breaks.

Shortening the academic year would save approximately $21,408 per day in transportation costs and approximately $17,638 per day in utility costs.

Such a move would likely have some impact on child care expenses for county parents.

The survey’s final question asks respondents to rank their preferences to the survey categories in terms of most preferred to least preferred. The final item also notes the point pertaining to personnel made by Bearden at the Aug. 29 called meeting in response to a question by board member Marion Key.

Bearden’s point was that personnel cuts will have to be addressed in one form or another even if the board decides to implement all the survey items since the combination of cost savings and revenue generation combined would not equal the estimated $10 million that will be needed to balance the budget on July 1.

Bearden reminded board members that the survey contained only a limited number of potential revenue generating and cost saving measures. To have included all the potential measures would have required a survey of 30-40 pages, he said.

The survey will be posted on the school system’s website at until Sept. 16. The survey results will be complied and presented to the school board at the Sept. 19 meeting.