Concern about finances tempers a host of good news for Barren Co. Schools; superintendent warns district may have to go back to the drawing board to make more cuts: "That's tall timber"

Glasgow Daily Times, Oct. 20, 2017

There's good, there's bad and it may get ugly; Matthews fears more budget cuts

BY LISA SIMPSON STRANGE

The Barren County School District has reasons to celebrate and reasons for concern Superintendent Bo Matthews shared during Tuesday night's board meeting.

On the positive side, the district's students did well according to recently released state assessment data. Elementary, middle school and high school scores exceeded the state's average scores in most cases, said Scott Harper, district director of Instruction and Technology.

Barren County Judge-Executive Micheal Hale was at the meeting to announce Barren County was named a Work Ready Community last week with the help of some of the district's personnel.

Alliance Corporation President and CEO Tommy Gumm reported construction work is progressing on the Career Technical Education center on the Trojan Trail campus and the new facility should have a roof in about six weeks and be dried in for continued work through the winter.

And Matthews himself was recently presented a Summit Award as Western Kentucky University-Glasgow Campus' volunteer of the year.

But financial worries regarding the state's underfunded pension plans and current and additional budget cuts are still at the forefront of the discussions for the district.

Tuesday night, state education officials were still waiting to hear what Gov. Matt Bevin's plan to address the pension crisis would entail. Matthews shared a pre-emptive letter addressing the negative consequences of proposed changes to educators' benefits that had been sent on behalf of all Kentucky Public School District employees and Local Boards of Education to Bevin, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Jeff Hoover from the Kentucky School Board Association and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, of which Matthews is president of the executive committee.

Bevin subsequently outlined his suggested changes in state pension plans in a press conference Wednesday morning, which may have allayed a few but certainly not all of Matthews' concerns about proposed changes to pensions and benefits.

Matthews also told board members and school administrators in Tuesday's meeting that the current school year's budget reduction could fall short of what is needed and more cuts may be on the way.

“There is some speculation that the 6 percent submitted by the commissioner of education won't be enough,” he said. “We'll likely have to go back to the drawing board when the actual forecasted numbers come in in terms of state revenue and there's a good possibility I'm being told to increase that percentage from current budget."

With previous years' budget cuts already having shrunk the school district's revenues, finding ways to trim more money will be a challenge, he said.

“That's very difficult to do. We're still having school; we're still teaching kids; we're still running buses and we will have to be very meticulous about how do we move forward in the midst of a fiscal year to do that," he added. "Then, we'll plan for the future.

"That's tall timber, but we'll get the job done. We have before and we will continue to do so.”

Matthews said the district will continue to try to raise the bar for student achievement but with fleeting resources.

“That's not an excuse. That's the times that we live in and we accept that and we're making adjustments as we need to, as we must,” he said.

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