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Abrams: ‘No win’ for schools

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By Cindy DiFazio

Staff writer/photographer

Henry County Public Schools Supertindent Tim Abrams feels a bit like he’s in a no-win situation.

During a special meeting last week to discuss budget cuts, Abrams told members of the HCPS Board of Education that he received an e-mail from Commissioner of Education Jon Draud asking why the district’s had a perceived high level of carry-over funding. “Your district showed an above average percentage of carry-over or contingency funds,” Draud wrote. “So that we can better respond to queries regarding contingency funding, it would be helpful if you would share your intended purpose for this level of carry-over funding.”

Last week the Commissioner of Education had asked all Kentucky school districts to look at how a four percent reduction in funding would impact programs. HCPS would lose $384,620.99 in allocations.

“We don’t spend money foolishly here,” Abrams said. “That money is intentionally set aside for the future.”

Abrams said he responded in an e-mail expressing frustration with what he dubbed a no win situation for school districts. “While some will criticize districts with what they deem as bigger than average carry-forward balance, the same folks will criticize districts who must make draconian cuts because of this shortfall, saying these districts have been mismanaged,” Abrams wrote.

In the e-mail, he praised the school board for having the foresight to levy a nickel tax. “We are undergoing a major renovation/addition to our high school. This would not have been possible if our local board had not had the intestinal fortitude to levy an additional recallable nickel tax for building purposes, which was not recalled. The additional nickel made this possible,” he wrote.

Abrams said the district will not make any program or staff cuts this year. “It is my intention and the board’s to make no cuts,” he said. “With our contingency at 11 percent, we can still function and be financially secure. We have given our principals 100 percent of their allocations.”

Abrams said the talk in Frankfort is that cuts could happen again next year. “We may not receive our per student allocation,” he said, “and they’re going away from full day kindergarten and pre-school.” 

According to Abrams, the district has reserved money for several years with the aim of renovating and adding to existing facilities. “We’ve been escrowing money,” he said. “If we need to access it, we could.” In his e-mail to the state department of education he referenced that money. “Now with this economic crisis the state is experiencing, this escrowed money will most likely go toward sustaining programs the district has started without state funding support (full-day kindergarten and full-day preschool for all eligible students),” he wrote.

Board president Harold Bratton said the district should prepare for a lengthy recession. “I think this will last at least 18 months,” he said. “I think we’re going to take another hit next year.” Abrams said he believed some districts will face major shortfalls. “There will be several districts go in the red,” he said.

Abrams said the situation should not be taken lightly. “This does affect us, and we want to have a solid, sound contingency,” he said. Abrams said the district would take a good hard look at its options in the spring. “Replacing four percent at a time will eat up our reserves quickly,” he said.

Bratton said in a recession local tax dollars would start falling off. “People make adjustments to services - like all the bells and whistles on phones and cable television,” he said.  “If it gets bad enough, it affects property taxes.”

“Hopefully changes will be minimal as we move forward,” Abrams said.

Board member John Smith said students’ needs have always been top priority. “Students are the most important thing we have,” he said, “and the board and superintendent have done everything we can.”

Read the original e-mail from the state as well as Abrams’ response at www.hclocal.com.

E-mail us about this article at news@hclocal.com.