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Covington Schools Facing Massive Cuts, Cost Increases

There is uncertainty within the Covington Board of Education as the district attempts to create a tentative budget for the next fiscal year.

Gov. Matt Bevin's proposed cuts to public education have made it difficult for the district to forecast.

Finance Director Annette Burtschy told the board that the district could stand to lose $521,000 in Support Excellence in Education in Kentucky (SEEK) funds because of a loss of students. She also said that transportation, which was already underfunded at 60 percent, could be reduced to 25 percent.

"In my twelve years of doing this, I have never seen anything like this," Burtschy said of the proposed cuts.

She listed some of the cuts: E-rate funding could drop from 90 percent to 10 percent, costing the district as much as $55,000. Reductions in grants, both state and federal are possible. The pension contribution is set to go from 19.18 percent to 28.05 percent, which means the district will have an increase of $698,169.

Superintendent Alvin Garrison said that the pension increase is going to happen - but it is still unclear whether it happens all at once or in a phased manner.

Garrison also mentioned that the state wants to pass some of the health care costs off to the districts, and added that there is going to be a 12 percent cut in administrative costs the first year, and 24 percent the second year.

Burtschy said these are not one-time hits, but recurring expenses.

"We have to be diligent," said Garrison.  I am thankful that we are OK. Next year we might not be. I don't know how some districts are going to survive this."

"We will get started on the budget committee meetings," Burtschy told the board. "We will have to get a pulse on what we are going to do to balance the budget for May. We just have to start talking."

On a more positive note Burtschy told the board that they received an offer of assistance for the School Facilities Construction Commission in the amount of $27,062 which has to be matched by the board, but will be available for use by July 1 of this year.

​Other notes:

The board held a formal ribbon cutting before the regular school board meeting to introduce their new Solar Panel Program to the public.  As Superintendent Garrison said, it wasn't practical to have everyone stand on the roof of Holmes High School or John G. Carlisle Elementary School, where the new solar panels are, so the ribbon cutting event was held at the district central office on Seventh Street.

The two solar displays are estimated to save the district $65,000 a year in electrical costs. Installed on the John G. Carlisle elementary school and the science building at Holmes High School, the panels have drastically improved the schools' energy efficiency and environmental quality.

Through a net metering agreement with Duke Energy, the Covington Schools solar panels are producing 620,000 kWh of power on an annual basis. The guaranteed energy savings project, of which the solar system is a part of, was completed with Performance Services, and it meets the energy, efficiency and safety needs of the District Facility Plan approved by the School Board in January of 2016.

Bill Grein, District Assessment Coordinator, gave a report on the Brigance Kindergarten testing.  He told the board that of the 298 kindergarten students, 48.1 percent were kindergarten ready last September, and that is up from 40 percent last year, and 43.8 the year before.  The rate of kindergarten readiness is up in all the elementary schools in the district according to the test results.

These results are good and in line compared to other schools in the Northern Kentucky area.  Bellevue Independent schools had 28.9 percent kindergarten ready with 38 students, Dayton Independent had 55.9 percent kindergarten ready with 68 students, Ludlow Independent had 40.9 percent ready with 44 students, and Erlanger Independent had 33.3 percent ready with 168 students.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act Grant proposal was up for renewal and officials asked the board for approval for the $65,000 they were asking for to help the 675 students in the school system. It was explained that other donations from the Neediest Kids of All and Title One and some community donations go together to make the program work.  The board approved writing the grant.

Officers were chosen for the school board.   April Brockhoff is the chair of the board, and Tom Wherry is the vice chair.

​Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

Photo: ​Superintendent Alvin Garrison addresses the Covington Board of Education (RCN)