"We're not panicking," Warren Co. superintendent says, but he is imposing a district spending freeze on Flex fund programs following announcement of state budget cut that will cost district $1.4 million

Daily News, Bowling Green, Sept. 15, 2017

Superintendent tells Warren County schools to freeze spending
By Aaron Mudd

Warren County Public schools are under a spending freeze following news that the Kentucky Department of Education will take a $69 million cut during the current fiscal year to help address a $200 million state budget shortfall.

Superintendent Rob Clayton said he advised the district’s principals to hold off on spending money through Flex Focus Funds, which are state grants that fund professional development, preschool, instructional resources, school safety efforts and extended school services.

Clayton said he was spurred to take action after Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt broke the news in an emergency conference call last week.

“In response to that call, we had to inform our principals to not expend any additional funding out of those areas until further notice,” Clayton said.

In his superintendent’s message, Clayton said the KDE cut would amount to $1.4 million in the current budget. Additionally, Clayton said school districts must absorb a $1.6 million increase in contributions to the County Employee Retirement System next fiscal year.

“As one can imagine, this $3 million hit to our general fund will have a significant impact on our finances moving forward,” Clayton said in the message.

On Tuesday, the district’s school board members reluctantly voted to raise the property tax rate from 44 cents to 44.9 cents per $100 of assessed property.

Pruitt has said he wants to protect funding through the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky program, which is the school’s primary funding source.

However, that doesn’t get school districts out of the woods.

“To my knowledge, (Pruitt) has very few options,” WCPS Chief Financial Officer Chris McIntyre told board members during their meeting Tuesday.

To help reserve money, Clayton said South Warren High School and Warren Central High School have suspended their after-school extended school services, which help struggling students through tutoring sessions.

Principal Jenny Hester of South Warren High School announced the decision on Twitter earlier this week.

Extended school services programs during the day will continue to be available, Clayton said, because they are facilitated by contracted employees that the district has already allocated money toward.

“The budget reductions, along with the current pension situation, have certainly heightened everyone’s awareness of the need for additional revenue in the Commonwealth,” Clayton said in the message. “I will continue to work alongside our legislators to ensure we do not compromise the quality of K-12 education you provide our students.”

Despite uncertainty about whether other school programs could be affected, Clayton told the newspaper there’s no cause for alarm.

“We’re not panicking,” he said.

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