Per-student school funding not likely to see a decrease
The Florida Senate unanimously passed its $65.6 billion version of the state budget on Thursday which local school officials see as favorable to public education.
While the House has yet to pass its slightly more conservative budget — expected to top out at $65.1 billion — school districts are for the first time able to take a sigh of relief.
Both budgets leave education funding relatively the same with per student spending at about $6,860, although that amount is inflated by a loosening of categorical spending or the funds districts use for textbooks and educational programs.
Members of the House are preparing to debate their budget over the weekend and the two versions need to be reconciled by May 1.
Lee County Superintendent James Browder said the approval of the Senate’s budget is positive news.
“What you have to look at is where they take the money, what they’re doing with the money and is it built on a revenue stream that is sustainable,” said Browder.
It is unlikely that the district will be hit with a $50 million shortfall, said Browder, even though preparations have been tailored around that amount. He said it’s probable that the district will have to deal with a shortfall of $25 million.
He added that the state’s revenue projections are too high which could result in additional loses later this year.
“When we get the House version we will build a budget based on that,” said Browder. “We are still taking all precautions until we get through the session and negotiations.”
On Thursday the school district reported that 500 employees received notification that their jobs may not be waiting for them next year. None of these positions have been eliminated yet, but they are potentially on the chopping block if the school district has a severe shortfall.
Browder said on Friday he believes the number of lost positions will be substantially lower than 500.
Most of the teachers will be on the district “surplus list” where they can be placed in different positions that become vacant. Seniority also plays a role on which teachers will stay with the district.
The Senate’s draft budget was written on the assumption that property assessments would drop by 12 percent this year, although some analysts expect assessments to decrease by as much as 15 to 20 percent, meaning when the assessments are released in the fall the district may lose extra funding.
“I am pleased that the funding will stay at the same place,” said Robert Chilmonik, Lee County School Board member. “However, the next thing we will have to look at is what the property appraiser says about how much the value of homes have decreased in Lee County.”
Chilmonik said the district needs to be frugal in its expenditures this year.
“The school district needs to look at excesses and reduce them wherever it can,” he said.
Although per student spending is relatively the same, legislators want to see superintendent and school board salaries decreased. District superintendents could see their salaries shrink by 5 percent and school board member salaries may be capped at $30,000, resulting in an approximate $8,000 pay cut for each Lee County School Board member.
The House and Senate will begin negotiations between the two budgets on Monday and final numbers should be available at the end of next week.