With state legislators preparing to take up a new budget beginning in January, school superintendents joined together Tuesday to push for funding increases for education.
Local superintendents joined with others members of the Southeast/South-Central Educational Cooperative in London for a new conference where they laid out their budget priorities.
The London conference was part of a statewide effort on behalf of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.
Laurel County Schools Superintendent Doug Bennett, who spoke on behalf of the local superintendents, said in order to draw more qualified individuals into education, the commonwealth must improve salaries, benefits, and retirement.
“The commonwealth must provided competitive salaries, healthy benefits, secure retirement, and ongoing training in the form of professional development that improves teachers instructional practices and knowledge of academic subjects,” Bennett said.
Corbin Independent Schools Superintendent Dave Cox noted that he has seen the teacher pipeline from college to career, that was once gushing, slowing to a trickle, and without changes at the state level, it was likely to slow even further.
“We had four vacant elementary teaching positions about eight or nine years ago. We had 104 applicants for those positions,” Cox said. “A few months ago, we had six applicants for two positions.”
In addition, Bennett said the state must work to improve the school atmosphere, so that teachers may focus on teaching.
“Often times, teachers are forced into other roles including: social worker, nurse, psychologist, investigators, and, often times, surrogate parents,” Bennett said.
Bennett noted that state funding for education has continually decreased as a percentage of district funding, from 53 percent 22 years ago, to 43 percent currently.
“The burden of education has shifted from state to local districts,” Bennett said.
Cox said one area where that is hardest on the local districts is transportation where the state provides 58 percent of the funding for the district.
Cox noted that a new school bus costs $125,000 to purchase on top of insurance and maintenance and $3 per gallon for diesel fuel.
In an era when car lines picking up and dropping off students around local schools are huge, the public may believe that transportation would cost the district less.
“Out of 3,000 students at Corbin schools, approximately 1,6000 ride the bus,” Cox said noting the school system paid out $670,000 last year in transportation costs above what the state provided.
“The biggest draw on our resources is that we have to continually fight to fund unfunded state mandates,” Cox said.
In addition, while the vast majority of school systems provide all day kindergarten classes, Cox noted that the state provides funding for one-half of a day of kindergarten.
Finally, Cox said there are a number of school safety mandates that are to be in place in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year, including safety vestibules, a certain number of counselors per child, and school resource officers at certain grade levels.
“Those are things that we specifically need money for,” Cox said.
Cox said he has spoken with Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, whose district includes Corbin, and State Representative Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg.
“They have a tough job, because everyone thinks their issues are the most important when it comes to funding,” Cox said.
Cox said the superintendents elected to speak out so the legislators and the public know their needs.
“You have to ask for the things that you need or you will never get them,” Cox said.
“The bottom line is Kentucky needs to make stronger investment in its public schools,” Bennett added.