Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Board seeking raise, two more days for schools

Patton's response is uncertain

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Board of Education wants to add two instructional days to the school calendar year after next.

        That initiative, at $28.4 million, was one of the items in a request for extra education funding that the board adopted Tuesday and sent to Gov. Paul Patton.

        The board acted on recommendations from the Kentucky Department of Education. A longer school year — 177 instructional days instead of 175 — would have been proposed to begin next year but was deferred for lack of money, Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit said.

        “These were very tough decisions — trying to balance the realities of the budget and yet holding on to our priorities,” Mr. Wilhoit told the board.

        The board and department want funding for elementary and secondary education to be increased by $225 million over the next biennium, which begins July 1.

        Of that amount, $75 million would give school districts a 1 percent increase in “base funding,” the state's portion of a district's budget. It is expressed as a sum based on the number of pupils in average daily attendance.

        Funding would remain at $3,066 per pupil next year and increase to $3,106 in fiscal year 2004.

        Public schools now consume a bit less than half of the state's General Fund. The budget for elementary and secondary education is $2.8 billion this year. If granted, the requested increases would be 4 percent next year and 5.5 percent in the second year of the budget.

        Whether Mr. Patton would go along with the request and propose it to the General Assembly was uncertain. State agencies are having to make spending cuts as revenues decline, but education has been spared so far. Mr. Patton said on Friday he was “not positive we can save education from cuts” indefinitely.

        Mr. Wilhoit and others said a longer school calendar would serve two purposes. Students would get more instruction, and teachers would get more money.

        Teachers in Kentucky work on a 185-day contract, of which 175 days are for instruction. Added into it are four holidays, four days for “professional development” and two days for opening and closing schools.


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