To continue addressing the real-time needs of school districts affected by the recent flooding, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass held a virtual huddle with superintendents on Aug. 18 to hear where the communities stand in their rebuilding efforts.
Glass told the superintendents that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is compiling a list of potential asks/needs of impacted districts for a possible special session of the Kentucky General Assembly in September.
A primary concern for impacted districts is the loss of enrollment due to the damage sustained by students’ homes and the loss of funding that will result.
“I’m concerned if we have students that don’t return, just the number of teachers I’m going to have to lay off at the end of this school year that are great,” said Perry County Superintendent Jonathan Jett. “We’ve got a lot of really great young teachers that I hate to see leave because with the teacher shortage, if they can go somewhere to get a job, it will be hard to get them back. It will be hard to recruit them back.”
Dawson Springs Independent Superintendent Leonard Whalen, whose community in western Kentucky was impacted by tornadoes last December, hopes that future legislation will allow for more flexibility regarding enrollment and tax stabilization.
During a 2021 special session, 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 originally was made due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will permit continued funding on this basis only through the 2022-2023 school year. Calculations for state SEEK funding for the 2023-2024 school year will be based upon 2022-2023 average daily attendance.
Whalen continues to advocate for an extended freeze on the SEEK formula and to allow districts in both western and eastern Kentucky at least five years to stabilize their communities.
“It’s going to take that for your communities to build back up,” he said.
KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney said KDE is recommending legislative language to help both western Kentucky districts impacted by tornadoes and eastern Kentucky districts impacted by flooding with the challenges they face due to a loss of enrollment. However, Kinney said recommendations for loss of enrollment may not be considered until the 2023 general session.
Additional asks/needs to the General Assembly by KDE on behalf of impacted districts will include:
- A waiver for student attendance days;
- A proposal for remote and hybrid learning options;
- Provisions for district facilities issues that relate to processes of where and how districts administer building repairs and construction; and
- Emergency days for affected staff.
Superintendents from Hazard Independent and Jackson Independent said they started the 2022-2023 school year this week.
“We had a wonderful start. To see the faces of the students, the parents and the staff was incredible,” said Jackson Independent Superintendent Wayne Sizemore.
For the districts that are back in session, the challenge is now to address mental health supports for staff and students, with many having lost everything in the flooding.
“We told all of our staff and students that if anyone needs support, please reach out,” said Hazard Independent Superintendent Sondra Combs.
School districts that received more significant damage are starting school later than originally planned. Perry County and Breathitt County districts are tentatively planning to start school on Aug. 29. Leslie County Schools will go back on Sept. 6 and Knott County Schools announced a tentative start date of Sept. 19.
“A lot of kids are really wanting to get back in school and see their teachers and see some smiling faces,” said Phillip Watts, superintendent of Breathitt County Schools.
Letcher County Schools – which had major damage to six buildings – has not announced a start date. Superintendent Denise Yonts said the district is looking into using existing spaces and alternative schedules to get students and staff back for the new school year.
Update from Kentucky Emergency Management
School Liaison Valoria Smith from the Kentucky Emergency Management (KYEM) said there are two weeks left for districts to request public assistance. Smith encouraged all districts to apply, even those who believe they have little damage.
“As disasters procedure, a lot of times there are resources available, but you had to have put in the original request for public assistance to be eligible to those,” she said.
Smith said the application will take superintendents 30-45 minutes to complete and includes questions about building structures, district office location and point of contact. KYEM will be reaching out to districts to assist in the application process.
For districts that have completed the request for public assistance, Smith will work with them to complete their initial application for public assistance.
“I’ve worked with schools before, complete respect and admiration for what you do. Just on a normal day having to do something like this would be very, very cumbersome. As much as I can do for you, I will definitely do it,” she said.
Finance and Operations Updates
Kinney informed superintendents the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will cover 100% of eligible costs related to debris removal and emergency protective measures for a to-be-determined 30-day period. A survey will be sent to superintendents that will help in determining what will be designated as Kentucky’s 30-day period.
“The more you put in information, it will help the Commonwealth with what 30-day period to pick,” she said.
Kinney encouraged superintendents to continue to communicate with KDE about technology needs regarding devices. The department hopes that donations will cover a significant amount of the damages. Currently, there is a need for approximately 2,000 student Chromebooks, 216 teacher Chromebooks and 214 desktop computers as reported by a limited number of districts to date
KDE also is updating a resource page for the superintendents, which includes volunteer resources, on-going shelters and FEMA grant funding opportunities. These resources will be updated as the weekly huddles continue.
“I want to thank all of you for all of the work you are doing in your districts. It is Herculean efforts going on,” said Kinney. “I also want to thank the Division of Water at the Energy and Environment Cabinet. They’ve been working really hard along with your local providers, EMS, FEMA and all the volunteer organizations that have come together to support our local school districts. And the biggest thanks to all our school districts that support each other.”
In other business, superintendents:
- Received a media update from KDE Chief Communications Officer Toni Konz Tatman about national and local coverage; and
- Learned about Hunter Combs’ column in Kentucky Teacher describing what the flooding and its aftermath has been like from a student perspective. Combs is an 11th-grade student at Knott County Central High School and a member of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council.