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Lee County School District loses more than $100M

By Staff | Jan 6, 2009

The Lee County School District’s losses in 2008 totaled more than $100 million, according to members of the board, but losses in subsequent years are expected to be far worse.
Superintendent James Browder described a grim future Tuesday, with less students and money, and potentially less staff and programs. As many as 400 people could lose their jobs based on budget projections, he said.
“Please understand we are going to have to make deep, hard cuts,” said Browder.
Losses in the 2009 to 2010 year will fall between $40 million and $50 million, according to a report by Budget Director Ami Desamours, and the district is expecting a 5 percent reduction in its FEFP funding handed down by the state.
According to the Florida Constitution, the district has to finalize a balanced budget by July 1. Browder said “that it won’t be an easy task and won’t be pleasant.”
“All of us understand we have never seen a time like this in our history,” he said.
Browder listed a number of areas that will be trimmed or on the chopping block including paid holidays, supply budgets, substitute allocations, student assignment, transportation and personnel salaries to balance the budget.
Everything will be negotiated, he said. But a worst-case scenario could put employees in a position where they no longer receive the 3 percent raise agreed upon last month.
“We will look at everything that is out there and make determinations on what we can and can’t do depending on the circumstances,” said Browder.
Another alternative for the board may be a one-cent increase in the local sales tax. Chairman Jane Kuckel explained the board has not considered that measure.
“The board has not had that discussion. That came up last night at the Curriculum Advisory Committee,” she said.
She said increasing the local sales tax could raise more money for the district, but its interests are focused on the results of this month’s special session.

Easing requirements
The Florida Legislature is in the middle of a special session, which started Monday and runs through Jan. 16, to deal with $2.5 billion of less revenue.
Statewide reports have legislators looking to cut $490 million from education, on top of $77 million refunded because of low student enrollment, to balance the budget.
Members of the board are asking the state to relax the requirements of the Class Size Amendment, which mandates all schools to cap class sizes by 2010.
“We have had unfunded mandates,” said Kuckel. “The Class Size Amendment has been very expensive. We can’t eliminate it, but we need to freeze it where we are to give us a little reprieve.”
Vice-Chairman Steve Teuber added that the district needs more flexibility in its categorical spending and that the state may mandate initiatives such as Class Size Amendment, but they should leave it up to school boards and superintendents to decide where funding goes.

SBA account liquid
Browder announced Tuesday that the State Board Administration or SBA account is now fully liquid.
Last year the SBA was frozen by the state because it contained subprime loans. As a result millions of dollars in funding from local governments across the state was trapped inside.
According to Browder, the district now has access to $100 million in the fully liquid Fund A, but he is recommending the money remains within the SBA.
“Interestingly enough, the SBA becomes the most stable and liquid of funds out there,” said Browder. “I will ask to keep the money in the SBA. There is no more risk with SBA than there is with the Bank of America or any place else.”
The $100 million in Fund A is a collection of money designated to the district’s capital and general funds.
By law funding from each capital and general funds cannot be used to fill shortfalls in the other, therefore the funding will have to be sorted and separated before any of it can be used to assist with shortfalls.