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School district could see funds shortfall

By MEGHAN BRADBURY / news@breezenewspapers.com - | Feb 26, 2021

The Lee County School Board was briefed on Feb. 22 regarding a decline in projected student funding that could mean the district will likely see a deficit in its next year’s budget.

Budget Director Kelly Letcher said every year the district has to turn in student FTE — full-time equivalent — projections to the state, one of which is unweighted and the other weighted. Lee County projections are down, as are most county projections statewide, she said.

“This year we had projected 96,061 students. Based on survey two and three, it looks like we are around 93,600 (students),” she said. “We are down about 2,400 students total this year. That, of course, has an impact on next year’s projections.”

The Department of Education has recommended Model 9, which has a projection of 95,114 students. Letcher said since they had no additional information to argue that point, they took that projection.

There were two areas in which the district talked to the Department of Education, projections related to ESOL — Speakers of Other Languages — students and ESE — Exceptional Student Education — students.

Letcher said even with their numbers going down, the ESOL population has grown about 6 percent this year, or by 273 students. The projection DOE provided was 200 students. With conversations between the DOE and district, in return, DOE has given a total projection of 478 students.

In regards to ESE, there are many categories, either 111, or 112, which are basic services for students. Students that need more one-on-one, or are in self-contained classrooms, are categorized in levels 254 or 255.

“Over the years we have noticed that we are getting a lot of requests for ESE needs, but our numbers are declining instead of increasing,” Letcher said. “Some of our students were being miscoded, coded for lower levels instead of 254.”

Already this year, the district has seen 101 student growth in level 254 over last year because of the change made. The DOE, dropped the projection to 58 students next year but, due to the conversation with the district, the number increased to 170 students.

Fletcher said during a normal year, there is a survey in October, which then goes back to the district for some tweaks before a new calculation for funding comes back for calculation three. Another survey is taken in February. From the October and February surveys, the funding is adjusted.

Because of COVID, an executive order stated that they would be paid on the projections, she said.

“We are still being paid on our projections of 96,000 students,” Fletcher said, adding that the executive order ended in December and they are still waiting on count three.

The presentation also highlighted the governor’s budget, which is always released prior to the legislative session.

“The governor’s budget is usually the high mark. We don’t get anywhere near what the governor is recommending. It does use the 95,114 unweighted FTEs, however, for Lee County,” she said.

The budget has an increase in the base student allocation of $132. Fletcher said the Department of Education recommended budget did not reflect the same increase.

There is something new added this year, Title One School Recognition Program, which Fletcher said she has no background as to what it is about.

The total budget coming from the governor for Lee County proposes a $12.9 million increase. Fletcher said although that sounds high, an agreement with TALC and SPALC that would contribute more into the health insurance program next year, a cost, or increase in the budget, of $7.8 million.

The district also knows that there will be an increase in the district’s contribution to the Florida Retirement System again. She said she has to assume that it will be at the same level it is this year because they are pushing to make sure the Florida Retirement System is covered, which is another $7.2 million.

“We have exceeded the high mark of the governor’s budget of 12.9, so we are going into the year with about a $2 million deficient,” Letcher said.