Since March 2020, schools have been on a carnival ride of whirling changes. That month, districts across the state went from normal to chaos in the blink of an eye as Frankfort handed down a barker’s litany of restrictions on practically everything in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gradually those restrictions were lifted as party factions battled in the legislature and courts. Schools remained in a state of uncertainty, though, with funding held static to attendance numbers from before lockdowns threw a wrench in the works.
Eventually the state would return to the normal formula for disbursing the money that makes up the bull of districts’ operating budgets. That day has arrived.
“We’re there,” said Webster County Schools financial officer Brandi Burnett.
Every district is allocated a certain amount per student based on the annual average daily attendance from the previous school year. Those funds are called SEEK, or Support Education Excellence in Kentucky. In almost every case, that money makes up the bulk of districts’ revenue.
In Webster County’s case, SEEK funds account for 55.6% of its incoming cash. The projected total based on attendance figured from April 2022 is $10,053,691.
Superintendent Aaron Harrell said the difference from last year’s estimate is not as bad as the district feared.
“We thought it might be more than $350,000,” he said of the decrease.
Instead, the county is projected to lose $197,208 from the SEEK allocation for the current school session.
While it does tighten the belt a little, the district will carry over approximately 20% of next year’s working budget from this year’s surplus.
The tentative budget, which will be voted on during the board of education’s business meeting May 22, includes just $9,551,006 for the SEEK line. That five% difference accounts for potential changes in enrollment during the school year, Burnett explained.
The total budget is estimated at $23,225,348.93. While that number could change over the evaluation period, it’s not likely to move much.
The district’s Fund 1, or general fund, is penciled in at $17,190,365.93. That segment accounts for everything from salaries and benefits to transportation and building upkeep. Three-quarters of the fund is allotted for employee compensation.
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Included in the budget is money earmarked specifically for an increase in school safety measures. That includes salaries for two school resource officers (the district currently employs one) and the purchase of a weapons detection system.
Harrell, Board Member James Nance, and a number of other central office personnel recently visited Crittenden County High School, which implemented the use of Open Gate. That system is designed specifically to detect the materials used in weapons like guns and knives.
The group observed students arriving at school, and then participated in a question and answer session with officials from that district.
“It went pretty seemlessly,” Harrell stated. “Students went though with backpacks and lunch boxes. The detectors didn’t go off much.”
Nance said he had asked one student what he thought of the process, which was put into place last month. That student, the board member reported, had no problem with the new procedure for entering the building.
Harrell said initial plans were to purchase enough components to cover four entrances. Two would be used at the main high school entrance, and one each at the main middle school entrance and at the back door of the high school where car riders enter.
That is not set in stone, though the district does intend to start at its largest campus.
Harrell reported he had spoken with Providence Mayor Butch Hackney and Webster County Judge-Executive Steve Henry about assisting the district with funding for SROs. He has meetings scheduled with other officials around the county as well.
“We can only post a part-time job,” he said.
Harrell is hoping the county and cities can help with summer salaries for officers while school is not in session. Those talks are in their earliest stages, but the superintendent is confident the district will soon be able to comply with the state law requiring an SRO on each campus.
In other business, the board Hlheard an update on the work that will be completed over the summer on the main entrance road to the high school. The project will be completed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, with funding coming from that agency.
The work will widen the drive to the lane in front of the high school, then will do the same to the section that runs behind Dixon Elementary School. The entrance road will be closed throughout June to allow for the project to be completed.
In an effort to improve traffic flow along U.S. Hwy. 41-A during arrival and departure from the campus, the state is also converting the KY 1340 “Y” intersection into a “T” with an extended turn lane. Turn lanes are also being built into the 41-A corridor. That work will begin after the high school entrance is complete.