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School District: Cuts are coming

By Staff | Jan 24, 2009

Budget woes were the point of discussion on Friday afternoon for the Lee County School District during a workshop. As officials prepare for the next fiscal year, Superintendent James Browder laid out his five-year plan to keep the district afloat.
Turnout for this workshop rivaled that of a regular action meeting, with district staff and members of the community eager to hear the board’s plan for dealing with a $67.7 million loss this year and an additional $30 million to $50 million in 2010.
One thing was made painfully clear on Friday: The cuts are coming.
Next year’s projected losses are between six and 10 percent of revenues from the Florida Education Finance Program — a calculation used by the state to distribute funds to school districts. A worst-case scenario according to Bob Cerra, the district’s lobbyist in Tallahassee, next year’s shortfalls could add up to as much as $70 million.
Last year Browder told the board he would be presenting a five-year plan to mitigate losses and on Friday he unveiled a plan where as much as 600 employees could be eliminated — a figure that jumped by 200 from the last board meeting.
“The cuts are going to be horrific,” explained Browder. “This isn’t a decision this board will make lightly and this is not a decision you will have any choice on. This does mean that people will lose their jobs.”
In his plan, Browder plans on first making significant reductions to non-personnel programs in the county. He agreed that the level of service will be compromised but reductions in non-personnel areas will total $15 million.
The Legislature’s special session offered some flexibility for the district in their categorical spending, therefore they will put off adopting new textbooks. Building supervisors could also be paid through the capital fund and summer school will transition from teacher-led to computer-based on programs such as NovaNet or Compass Learning.
Browder also said that the district will utilize unused insurance plans — specifically the benefit banks worth $6,372. Many employees choose not to use the district’s insurance plans, he said, and therefore that money is in limbo.
Partial cuts will also be made to some athletic activities in middle and high school, as well as those programs considered “above the formula” such as art, music and physical education — programs not included in state funding calculations. Reductions will also be made to career academies, International Baccalaureate programs, comprehensive high schools and magnet programs.
Dr. Gregory Adkins, the chief human resources officer, has already begun negotiations with both the Teachers and Support Personnel Associations to determine if the district can reduce all district pay by 3 percent.
And officials are looking into changing work year schedules and going from a seven-period day to four 80-minute blocks.
The board continues to ask the Legislature for flexibility within implementing the Class Size Amendment — which caps class sizes at 18 for elementary, 22 for middle and 25 for high school. Browder said the next stage in implementing the amendment will cost $20 million, funding that the district hopes to use in other places.
Vice Chairman Steven Teuber said the district wants to be able to use school averages rather than by class size, meaning that some high school classes could have as many as 26 or 27 students in one class as long as the school average reaches state limits.
“If you can balance it across the school on the school level,” said Teuber. “Give the principal the autonomy to run the school the way he sees fit.”
Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he was concerned that the district has purchased more than 900 acres of vacant real estate for approximately $20 million, even though it experienced declining student enrollment in 2008.
“At the current trends I fail to understand why we continue to buy more property,” said Chilmonik. “My point was that is money we can use to save these programs.”
The board also is considering a flexibility referendum that would allow funds to be transferred from its capital account to its operating account. Browder’s plan touched on potentially including a referendum to the voters in 2011 that would allow up to $30 million to be transferred. Board members, on the other hand, are weary of this option.
“I won’t support a capital swap unless it’s a last resort,” said Teuber. “I agree with Dr. Browder that it is foolish to pay reoccurring costs with non-reoccurring funds. It puts us in a situation of Russian roulette.”
The Collier County School District placed a similar referendum on last November’s ballot which the public approved and the board transferred $16 million to help with revenue losses.
Chairman Jane Kuckel asked residents to contact their legislators to provide even more flexibility to the school district in how the budget is balanced and over altering the class size requirements.
“I encourage you to let our legislators know how critical this is to our students and communities,” said Kuckel. “It is important we maintain the quality of education.”

School District: Cuts are coming

By Staff | Jan 24, 2009

Budget woes were the point of discussion on Friday afternoon for the Lee County School District during a workshop. As officials prepare for the next fiscal year, Superintendent James Browder laid out his five-year plan to keep the district afloat.

Turnout for this workshop rivaled that of a regular action meeting, with district staff and members of the community eager to hear the board’s plan for dealing with a $67.7 million loss this year and an additional $30 million to $50 million in 2010.

One thing was made painfully clear on Friday: The cuts are coming.

Next year’s projected losses are between six and 10 percent of revenues from the Florida Education Finance Program – a calculation used by the state to distribute funds to school districts. A worst-case scenario according to Bob Cerra, the district’s lobbyist in Tallahassee, next year’s shortfalls could add up to as much as $70 million.

Last year Browder told the board he would be presenting a five-year plan to mitigate losses and on Friday he unveiled a plan where as much as 600 employees could be eliminated – a figure that jumped by 200 from the last board meeting.

“The cuts are going to be horrific,” explained Browder. “This isn’t a decision this board will make lightly and this is not a decision you will have any choice on. This does mean that people will lose their jobs.”

In his plan, Browder plans on first making significant reductions to non-personnel programs in the county. He agreed that the level of service will be compromised but reductions in non-personnel areas will total $15 million.

The Legislature’s special session offered some flexibility for the district in their categorical spending, therefore they will put off adopting new textbooks. Building supervisors could also be paid through the capital fund and summer school will transition from teacher-led to computer-based on programs such as NovaNet or Compass Learning.

Browder also said that the district will utilize unused insurance plans – specifically the benefit banks worth $6,372. Many employees choose not to use the district’s insurance plans, he said, and therefore that money is in limbo.

Partial cuts will also be made to some athletic activities in middle and high school, as well as those programs considered “above the formula” such as art, music and physical education – programs not included in state funding calculations. Reductions will also be made to career academies, International Baccalaureate programs, comprehensive high schools and magnet programs.

Dr. Gregory Adkins, the chief human resources officer, has already begun negotiations with both the Teachers and Support Personnel Associations to determine if the district can reduce all district pay by 3 percent.

And officials are looking into changing work year schedules and going from a seven-period day to four 80-minute blocks.

The board continues to ask the Legislature for flexibility within implementing the Class Size Amendment – which caps class sizes at 18 for elementary, 22 for middle and 25 for high school. Browder said the next stage in implementing the amendment will cost $20 million, funding that the district hopes to use in other places.

Vice Chairman Steven Teuber said the district wants to be able to use school averages rather than by class size, meaning that some high school classes could have as many as 26 or 27 students in one class as long as the school average reaches state limits.

“If you can balance it across the school on the school level,” said Teuber. “Give the principal the autonomy to run the school the way he sees fit.”

Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he was concerned that the district has purchased more than 900 acres of vacant real estate for approximately $20 million, even though it experienced declining student enrollment in 2008.

“At the current trends I fail to understand why we continue to buy more property,” said Chilmonik. “My point was that is money we can use to save these programs.”

The board also is considering a flexibility referendum that would allow funds to be transferred from its capital account to its operating account. Browder’s plan touched on potentially including a referendum to the voters in 2011 that would allow up to $30 million to be transferred. Board members, on the other hand, are weary of this option.

“I won’t support a capital swap unless it’s a last resort,” said Teuber. “I agree with Dr. Browder that it is foolish to pay reoccurring costs with non-reoccurring funds. It puts us in a situation of Russian roulette.”

The Collier County School District placed a similar referendum on last November’s ballot which the public approved and the board transferred $16 million to help with revenue losses.

Chairman Jane Kuckel asked residents to contact their legislators to provide even more flexibility to the school district in how the budget is balanced and over altering the class size requirements.

“I encourage you to let our legislators know how critical this is to our students and communities,” said Kuckel. “It is important we maintain the quality of education.”