Florida School Board Association outlines proposed budgets, impact
Four weeks are left in the Florida Legislature’s 2009 session, and both houses are working to put together a budget that will not devastate public education.
Dr. Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Board Association, presented a video update of the current session and its effect on education.
“At this current time the Senate budget has a zero percent cut, and that means the base student allocation in the Senate budget is exactly what it was,” he said. “The House budget is a little better than that on a per student basis, but both of those are the same.”
The Lee County School District receives funding on a per student basis through the Florida Education Finance Program. For each full-time enrolled student the district receives $7,453.
According to Blanton, proposed budgets from the Senate and House bring no change to base student allocations.
The allocation is not scheduled to change, Blanton said, but overall student expenditures have decreased $300 from the previous year.
Furthermore, he explained that flexibility granted to school districts is bundled within the base student allocation, leading to questions of whether the amount is inflated.
“You have taken categorical money and given us flexibility and rolled it into that (base allocation), which puts the base student allocation up,” said Blanton.
The Florida School Board Association also outlined two state initiatives that may decrease salaries given to superintendents and school board members. The proposals would cut superintendent salaries by 5 percent and cap school board member salaries at no higher than $30,000, the maximum amount a legislator can earn.
Thirty of the state’s larger districts, including Lee County, would have to reduce board member pay under the proposal. Reductions could be as high as $10,000, while in Lee the cut to board members is valued at approximately $8,000.
Not every school board member would be severely affected by the pay cut. Positions on the school board are part-time and most members have another job alongside serving on the board.
Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he applauds the state’s efforts in trying to cut costs in education.
“Any cuts need to start at the top of the leadership level,” he said. “When you are under hard economic times you need to take the steps that are necessary.”
Salary cuts worth $8,000 would equate to a 20-percent pay cut for board members.
Vice-chairman Steve Teuber said he supports having the superintendent and school board take a cut.
“The bottom line is that the state Legislature wants to make a point,” he said. “I made the comment that I’d do it for free, that is what public servants do.”
If the district cuts all employee salaries by 2 or 3 percent, the superintendent and board would share the burden, said Teuber. But he also stressed the importance of compensating board members to attract elected officials from diverse backgrounds.
“The problem you have with any of these jobs is that if you don’t pay for it, you only get the people who are financially secure,” said Teuber.
Proposals circulating the Legislature are offering a myriad of ideas on how to tighten efficiency in the district and generate revenue.
One bill circulating the House and Senate would make it easier for districts to eliminate teachers by increasing the number of years required to be “tenured” from 3-5 years.
In preparing their budgets, the House and Senate utilized federal stimulus funds, but the Senate has also banked on funds from gaming dollars, said Blanton.
Legislators are currently working with the Seminole Indian Tribe to bring table games to local casinos, an expansion that could generate up to $500 million each year. According to Blanton, 95 percent of revenue from gaming would go to the classroom.
He also said he is hesitant that a 1-cent tax increase will pass through the Legislature.