School district lobbies for funds
Superintendent James Browder returned to Lee County Friday night after lobbying the Florida Legislature to provide additional funding for the school district.
Browder was in Tallahassee since Wednesday and sat down with members of the Lee County Legislative Delegation to ask for more funding.
“They are aware their role in this is difficult,” said Browder. “And I said, look, you have to do everything you can to assist us so we don’t have to cut programs that are important to children and the community.”
On Monday the district released a preliminary budget based on a $51 million shortfall from the state. Overall, it would cut 578 positions including 80 elementary art and music teachers. District officials are expecting a loss of between $30 and $70 million.
Some discussion has also centered around reducing employee salaries by 2 percent, only three months after the district approved a 3 percent raise for all positions.
During the last school board meeting, Browder said he was in the dark to the real extent of budget cuts because the state hasn’t handed over any concrete numbers. On Friday he said not much of the dire financial situation has changed, although he added that the Senate’s proposal is more favorable for schools.
“The situation hasn’t changed dramatically from when I left,” said Browder. “The sense I got from the legislators we talked to is that it’s very serious.”
The Senate’s budget avoids massive cuts by depending on increased gaming revenues from Seminole casinos if a deal is brokered between the tribe and the state of Florida. It would reportedly maintain per student spending which in Lee County was $7,453 in 2006-2007.
On the other hand, the Senate’s budget would require the state to loosen restrictions on the Class Size Amendment which caps the amount of students in every classroom. This was approved in a 2002 voter referendum and would have to be overturned by the Legislature.
Browder also said that the Senate’s budget used more federal stimulus money than the House version.
Many states, including Florida, have to obtain a waiver from the federal government to receive stimulus funds. Any states that don’t hold school spending at 2006 levels are required to obtain the waiver. Lee County would operate under 2004-2005 levels if the newest state budget passed.
Once the House’s proposal is released next week it will have to be reconciled with versions from the Senate and governor. The state is expecting a $6 billion shortfall.
The superintendent said he hopes the state releases funding numbers within the next three weeks. By July 1 the Lee County School Board has to approve a balanced budget according to the Florida Constitution.