By John L. Ross, Staff Writer
Another year begins another path to an agreement between Corbin Independent Schools and the Knox County School System.
During the Knox County Board of Education’s regular meeting Tuesday, members needed to vote on various reciprocal agreements held between the school system and surrounding educational facilities.
The first reciprocal agreement vote tackled for the night concerned Barbourville Independent School. Superintendent Walter Hulett said the board needed to rescind the current agreement to set a cap for the number of students allowed in the agreement.
He said they needed to revert back “to the original agreement” from five years ago and use that agreement for the remainder of the current two-year contract.
Board Chair Carla Jordan motioned to accept the change, with a second from Board Member Charles Merida. The board was unanimous in this decision.
The next item concerned approving various reciprocal agreements with other school systems, including Corbin Independent.
Hulett said Corbin sent an agreement which did not include a specific number of students, but rather was worded “any or all” students.
He said other agreements to be voted upon were “traditional.”
Board Member Merrill Smith asked about a cap in the number. Hulett said the agreement is “the same one they’ve been sending.”
This is not the first time Knox Schools have faced this dilemma. For more than two years, discussions concerning the agreement between Corbin Independent and Knox County Schools have been rocky.
“Franklin Circuit Court suggested mediation,” Hulett said. “We tried two times (and were) unsuccessful.”
He explained that Corbin had appealed decisions in the past, and that “no doubt they will appeal again.”
‘It’s time to get a number,” he added. “(There’s) no relief at the state board.”
Board Member Dexter Smith said he wanted “a level playing field” when it came to the reciprocal agreements.
Jordan made a motion to approve the reciprocal agreements with all the schools, except Corbin. That motion died for lack of a second.
Jordan then motioned to approve the reciprocal agreement “and revisit Corbin next month — (we’ll) pull out Corbin for February.”
That motion was seconded by Board Member Sam Watts. The board was unanimous in this decision.
In other board business:
— Board members received the first draft of the next fiscal year budget from Finance Officer Gertrude Smith. The first draft is one of three required during the budgeting process.
“There’s not much information to do a budget yet,” she said.
However, one point made was a possible need for increased property tax revenues.
She explained that she uses the current year’s budget and “roll(s) it forward.”
She also discussed some of the unknown factors facing the budgeting process, including the well-publicized “fiscal cliff” that looms over the American economy. She estimated the school system could lose as much as $61 million a year for the next decade if the federal government did not act on cutting spending. She also said that a “current guesstimate” shows a possible 10 percent cut in both Title I and special education funds — which works out to $325,000 from Title I, and $123,000 from special education.
“That funding pays for classroom teachers,” she said.
Also in question is the school system’s insurance provider. Smith said the current provider is “not in the business of insurance anymore.” While they annually bid out for insurance, the current provider most times brought in the lowest bid.
“Insurance costs may go up,” she said.
Also problematic for the schools is an imminent rate increase from Kentucky Utilities, and an aging bus fleet’s maintenance requirements.
Another hurdle to cross with the budget is a mandated increase in matching retirement funds. Currently a 1.5 percent match is required — Smith said the new requirement is 2 percent.
Also worrisome is the closing of TruSeal, which Smith said drops the county’s property tax base by approximately $12 million. Property tax monies are disbursed by county administrators, which would be a $56,000 revenue loss for the schools.
She said two ways of revenue control exist for the schools. One is pushing for an increased Average Daily Attendance rate, which brings in more state and federal dollars.
The other is a tax increase.
“(It’s) not popular, (but it’s) the only way we have really to increase revenues,” Smith said.
Jordan motioned to accept the first draft of the budget, with a second from Watts. The board was unanimous in its decision.
— The board voted to choose its new chair and vice chair. Jordan was named the new chair, and Watts is now vice chair. The board unanimously accepted these choices.
The next meeting of the Knox County School Board is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the Knox County Board of Education Annex building on Daniel Boone Drive in Barbourville.