Over the years, the ladies who run the Family Resource and Youth Service Centers (FRYSC) at Mercer County schools have come together to help their students and their families.
Now, thanks to budget cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin, they’ve come together to help raise awareness about their own perilous financial situation.
The state government has already cut $371,207.62 in FRYSC funding for the current school year, and if the governor’s budget proposals go through the General Assembly, FRYSC programs across the state are facing cuts of $2 million each year in the two year budget cycle.
“They could potentially be devastating,” said Cindy Brown, Family Resource Center Coordinator at Mercer County Elementary School.
All together, Mercer County FRYSC programs have lost $19,886.72 just in this school year.
FRYSC was created to help students succeed in school by promoting—either alone or through partnerships with other area groups—early learning and successful transition to school, academic achievement and well-being, graduation and transition into adult life.
What that means in real life is working on everything from a cradle school for children under the age of five to substance abuse education to baby-sitting certification to college and career preparedness.
“We pay for field trips to get every child to a college campus,” said Georgiana Bray, who runs the Family Resource Center at Mercer County Intermediate School.
Bray has worked for eight years. In that time, she has been approached to do everything from helping a student’s family pay their utility bill to arranging a dental clinic for children whose families can’t afford a trip to the dentist.
A portable dentist’s chair sits in her office, which is crowded with canned goods and school supplies.
“We all need a helping hand at one time or another in our lives,” said Bray.
At the intermediate school, over half of the students are in need.
“If you line 10 kids up, six of them are living below the poverty level,” Bray said.
Her office is getting hit from both sides. Not only is Bray looking at a $4,850 cut, but as a member of the County Employee Retirement System, her office must also make larger contributions to her retirement plan.
Bray said poverty in Mercer County is camouflaged. She said working at FRYSC has been an eye-opening experience for her.
“I didn’t realize how many kids have never had a birthday cake,” she said. She’s helped students who were falling behind in reading because their parents were unable to afford glasses.
Bray said 80-percent of families in Mercer County live paycheck to paycheck, with no savings to deal with unexpected expenses. That’s why all Mercer students qualify for free lunches.
“That’s the only full meal the students may have,” said Allison Hazelwood, Youth Services Center coordinator at King Middle School.
Hazelwood, who has worked at KMS over six years, said she knows the state government is dealing with issues that have been overlooked for a long time, such as the underfunded pension system.
She knows hard choices have to be made, but she takes issue with how the governor is handling them.
“It’s almost like he’s trying to do a fast fix at the expense of people and their families,” Hazelwood said.
Cindy Brown agreed. “It didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not going to be solved overnight,” she said.
Everywhere you look, there’s good economic news. Mercer County’s unemployment rate is 3.8 percent. Nationally, employment hasn’t been this high since 2000. The housing market is recovering. Consumer confidence is strong.
And yet, education in Kentucky—not just FRYSC programs, but transportation, teachers’ professional development and Mercer County Day Treatment—is facing the deepest cuts that Brown, who has worked with the school system for 22 years, has ever seen.
“We’re uncertain about our pensions, we’re uncertain about our health care,” said Brown. “Now we’re uncertain about our careers.”
Even without the latest funding cuts, FRYSC doesn’t receive a lot of money, and there are often restrictions on how it can be used.
Bray said she and the other coordinators rely on the generosity of local churches, businesses and factories.
“We are blessed by our community,” Bray said.
She and the other ladies who work at FRYSC are asking the community for their support again. To call their representatives in the General Assembly and protect at least some of the program’s funding.
The budget proposal is currently being debated in the House of Representatives. Rep. Kim King can be reached by phone at 734-2173, at her office at 502-564-8100 Ext. 763 and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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