School officials review Crist’s proposed budget
Lee County School District officials discussed their expectations of Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget released Friday.
Each year the governor’s proposed budget is considered the high watermark before it is shaved down by the Florida Legislature.
On Tuesday night Superintendent James Browder said he is hoping the governor’s budget is the version used by the state.
“I’m praying for the governor’s budget, and I hope this budget is in fact a real budget and not a place to start,” he said.
Budget director Ami Desamours outlined how the governor’s budget could affect the district in the 2009 to 2010 school year.
Under Crist’s budget, the school district would receive approximately $569 million and its funding per full-time equivalent student would increase by 2 percent to $7,414.
Federal funding from President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan will play a large role in whether the cuts in Lee County become disastrous or manageable.
With federal funds, the district is looking at a difference of only $602,200 from what it spent in 2008 to 2009. Without federal assistance, the district would have to spend $27 million more than it did this year.
The federal dollars would help the school district and state, but officials said it is money set aside for specific purposes.
“In the governor’s budget, he did say the total amount of money allocated for the federal stimulus package will be divided by Title I and II, IDEA and equipment for the school lunch program,” said Desamours.
Because any federal assistance could be limited to “categorical” spending, it could not be used to cover shortfalls in the district’s operating account.
Browder said he has not been informed on whether the money will be streamlined for certain programs.
“If that $26 million has no strings attached, that could offset some deficit we might have,” he said. “If it is attached, then the cut goes up.”
Desamours stressed that the budget department is still developing contingency plans to deal with the cuts. Decreases in funding are currently estimated to be between $30 million and $70 million — a large margin dependent on how the state reduces its allocations.
“At this point we have to make sure to plan for the worst but hope for the best,” she said. “We don’t want to hang our hat on this, we need to continue to plan for the worst.”
Over the weekend the district hosted a demonstration asking the Legislature for additional funding. Budget cuts could eliminate certain “above-the-formula” programs such as art or music.
In reaction to potentially losing fine arts in the classroom, nearly a dozen speakers addressed the board Tuesday night.
Among those who spoke during public comment was Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah and Maestro Michael Hall, conductor of the Southwest Florida Symphony and Youth Symphony.
“Lee County celebrates the arts and it provides significant funding,” said Judah. “I can’t emphasize enough that the arts need to be ranked up there with art, history, math and science.”
Hall said he wants to stress the inherent value of music and the arts.
“As a young person, the music came in the school and made a great impact on me. I want you to do everything you can to extend this opportunity to these students,” he said.