Thursday, January 9, 2003

Schools in N.Ky. prepare for cuts


State budget crisis prompts meeting

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ERLANGER - Cuts in staff and programs at Northern Kentucky schools appear inevitable because of the state's worsening budget crisis, the region's school superintendents were told Wednesday.

Specific cuts are unknown because multimillion-dollar deficits predicted for the next two budget years are still projections at this point.

But many of the school administrators who gathered Wednesday at Lloyd High School in Erlanger said if the projections hold, there will be no choice but to make drastic cuts that will be felt in classrooms.

"This just puts more burden on the local systems," said Fred Bassett, superintendent of Beechwood Schools in Fort Mitchell.

Added Jim Simpson, superintendent of the Grant County Schools, "I don't see how any of us can handle this without cutting staff."

Kyna Koch, an associate commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Education, painted a grim picture of deepening budget deficits during the meeting of the Northern Kentucky School Superintendents Association.

Overall, the state is facing a $500 million budget deficit in the fiscal year that ends in June. That will translate to $48 million less for education in the current fiscal year, with cuts of $78.2 million projected for the following year.

But worsening finances could mean more cutbacks in education, possibly another $59.3 million this year and $120 million in the 2003-04 fiscal year.

The situation, Ms. Koch told the school administrators, "Is ugly no matter how you look at it."

Gov. Paul Patton and some lawmakers, including state Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, have said taxes may have to be increased, including those on cigarettes and businesses. But leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate have made it clear that when lawmakers begin meeting in February for the 2002 legislative session there is no sentiment in their chamber for increasing taxes.

Another option to generate money is allowing the state's thoroughbred racetracks to operate slot machines. That could bring as much as $300 million a year in new revenue.

Complicating the financial situation this year for school districts is that teachers are working with contracts that have already been signed, and therefore those salaries can't be cut and must be paid, Mr. Bassett said.

"We'll have to make the cuts either using up part of our savings, which is part of our contingency budget, or we will have to make it up by cutting programs," he said.

"We'll cut out maintenance of buildings. We'll cut back on field trips. We'll cut back on other types of educational services in the schools."

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com




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