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School district budget workshop adjourns early

By Staff | Jun 20, 2009

A Lee County School Board budget workshop was adjourned early without discussion Friday morning because members of the board claimed that materials being discussed were not handed in ahead of time.
The meeting was scheduled as an opportunity for Board Member Robert Chilmonik to present a cost reduction strategy he designed to save funds inside the districts $1.5 billion budget.
Approximately 30 minutes after he concluded his presentation, Chairman Jane Kuckel adjourned the meeting before the board could take questions from the community or hold a discussion among its five members.
“Since you didn’t make this information available a couple of weeks ago, as requested, I won’t ask Dr. Browder or staff members to respond at this point,” said Kuckel.
During the last school board meeting on June 16, Kuckel told Chilmonik to provide the presentation materials before the date of the workshop or the meeting would be cut short.
She added that Superintendent James Browder and the budget department would consider Chilmonik’s cost reduction strategies throughout the budgeting process.
Chilmonik said Friday that he was disappointed with the lack of discussion and interchange between board members at the workshop.
“That is what was expected. I tried to provide leadership to my other board members,” said Chilmonik. “I was hoping they would come up with some ideas and have an open meeting rather than me presenting and everyone else sitting in stunned silence.”
Board Vice Chairman Steve Teuber characterized the presentation as ridiculous.
“Everything he said is totally wrong,” said Teuber. “We discuss all of those issues, but if they have any merit he would of given it to us two weeks in advance.”
In defense of handing in late materials, Chilmonik said he wasn’t able to hand over his Powerpoint presentation because he received some last-minute information about transportation.
He gave board members a file full of statistics and data two weeks ago — a file that he said included the information discussed on Friday morning — but the data disk wasn’t organized into a presentation at that time.
Chilmonik’s ideas to lower costs focused on transportation, school capacity and a capital to operating shift of district funds.
According to Chilmonik, the district spent 9 percent or $61 million on transportation from its operating funds, which nearly doubled the state average of 5 percent.
Since implementing the school zone program in 2003, Chil-monik said the district increased bus riding by 14 percent, the amount of miles driven by 13 percent and total operating costs by 21 percent.
According to Teuber, district buses aren’t driving extravagantly.
“For cost per mile, we are eighth in the state and the ninth largest district,” he said. “As far as cost per transportation department, we are the 14th most expensive and ninth largest district.”
“Our transportation costs are lower than Charlotte and Collier and we have more canals and bridges,” added Teuber.
More buses are driving more miles on the road, said Chil-monik, and bus capacity in Lee County is only 43 percent.
The School Choice system in Lee County was originally created in order to combat de facto segregation, but Chilmonik said that district schools have reached minority levels of 80 percent or more and as a result the district could consider “neighborhood” schools in some areas.
Enrollment in the school district dropped by over 1,000 students for the first time last year, and according to Chilmonik 23 percent of schools are underutilized. He is suggesting that the board look into consolidating some schools in order to save the district money.
He also said that the district has administrator-to-staff ratios much higher than school districts of comparable or larger size. In Lee there is one administrator to every 25 staff members, while in Brevard that ratio is 1:30; in Collier 1:28 and in Seminole 1:33.
Teuber said that administrator numbers are higher in Lee County because other districts don’t report to their administrators the same way, and therefore the state’s information is skewed.
According to Teuber, the board has had some discussions around saving money, including a plan to ask administrators to take a 10-day unpaid furlough, but they decided against it after realizing that administrators didn’t take a pay increase this year.
At the end of his presentation, Chilmonik suggested that the district freeze all non-emergency capital projects and land purchases for three years, and freeze all non-emergency technology purchases — this would amount to $47 million that could be used in a capital to operating shift of funds, he said.
“I think the capital to operating shift is a viable option and we need to piggyback the local elections,” he said.