To continue addressing the real-time needs of school districts affected by the recent tornadoes, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass held a virtual huddle with superintendents on Dec. 29 to hear where the communities stand in their rebuilding efforts.
Glass told the superintendents on the call that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is compiling all the questions received and will separate them into items the department can address, items the Kentucky Board of Education will need to address, items for the Kentucky General Assembly and items that will require action from the federal government.
A primary concern for impacted districts is how the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding formula will look in the years to come.
The SEEK program is a formula-driven allocation of state-provided funds to local school districts for costs, including transportation and help for low-income and special needs students.
During a special session earlier this year, the Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill (SB) 1, which allows districts to use previous attendance data from either the 2018-2019 or the 2019-2020 school years to calculate the average daily attendance that will be used in calculating SEEK funds and any other state funding based in whole or in part on average daily attendance for the district for the 2021-2022 school year. The allowance was made due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the attendance data for the SEEK formula may be frozen for the 2021-2022 school year, district leaders are calling for that freeze to be extended for up to five more years to address funding concerns related to the impact of the tornadoes.
“Mayfield is a town of 10,000 people that just don’t have housing,” said Mayfield Independent Superintendent Joe Henderson. “It’s not like you can move to the other side of town and find housing. There is no housing here to be had.”
Henderson said it would be optimistic to believe the town could be rebuilt within five years, but an extension of the SEEK funding formula would at least provide the district with a “security blanket as far as funding goes.”
Dawson Springs Independent Superintendent Leonard Whalen echoed Henderson’s concern, also calling for an extended freeze on the SEEK formula.
“In reality, it’s probably going to be a three- or four-year cleanup effort, and then there will be folks starting to rebuild,” Whalen said. “I’ve got staff members that lost everything and they’re being told by local contractors that they need two years before they could even start to rebuild their houses.”
With extensive recovery efforts underway, superintendents also discussed the potential need to revise the 2021-2022 school calendar. SB 1 allows districts to revise their calendar to waive the requirement that an instructional year contain 170 student attendance days, but keeps the requirement that districts provide a minimum of 1,062 instructional hours.
Superintendents also raised a question about how to handle employee contract days. If a district chooses to revise its calendar pursuant to SB 1, an employee must satisfy all of their contract days, regardless of whether or not the district amends its calendar, as it could do due to the tornadoes.
If a district were to adjust its calendar and meet the 1,062-hour requirement before the fulfillment of staff contract days, the legislation advises districts to provide staff with professional development opportunities or additional work responsibilities.
Whalen said almost 20% of his staff lost everything they had during the storm, and the remaining 80% have been spending the majority of their time helping the community and their colleagues rebuild. He recommends granting emergency days worked to staff as a way to allow them to meet the required days outlined in their contract.
“When we get back in session, it’s going to be a major struggle just to get to the end of the regular school year,” he said. “So you start talking about ending the school year with your students and then you tell staff they have to come back in and work two or three additional weeks. That’s just not realistic.
“We have people that are going to be trying to rebuild their households, rebuild houses and work on their own houses, myself included. That’s just where we’re at right now. They’re trying to get through their personal life, but also meet the needs of our kids.”
KDE General Counsel Todd Allen said providing these emergency days would require action from the General Assembly, which will convene for a regular session on Jan. 4.
“We are committed to working with the impacted districts to identify where we can provide support and relief,” said Glass.
Leadership from KDE plans to meet with affected districts again next week.