Schools funding outlook is grim


Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 11:14 p.m.

The School Board will prepare for more budget cuts in 2009-10 but will also continue to lobby the governor and the Legislature not to slash public school funding.

During a Tuesday afternoon workshop, Assistant Superintendent Keith Birkett, who oversees the district budget, said there's still no clear answer on how much state money the district will see cut next year.

"We're still living in a vacuum of the unknown," he said.

Tuesday, staff went over the scenario of a 7 percent reduction for administrative departments.

Finance Director Scott Ward said if such a cut was made evenly across the board, it would mean layoffs in each of those departments. That conversation was limited to administrative departments and support personnel, not teachers.

Throwing around ideas for potential spending cuts, board member Ginger Childs suggested cutting summer school to four days a week. She also reluctantly raised the idea of switching all employees on 12-month contracts to 11- 1/2 month contracts. That would mean "enforced two-week vacations we don't pay them for," she said, but could prevent layoffs.

Superintendent Dan Boyd said, at this point in time, the district was better off than many around the state because of the extra one-mill property tax that voters approved last November.

That revenue - currently estimated at $13 million a year for four years - is required to be spent on specific areas, among them school nurses, guidance counselors, elementary school art and music and middle school band.

With the extra property tax revenue, the district intends to restore elementary school art and music to full-year classes.

Ward said without the money, additional budget cuts likely would have meant eliminating those classes.

The current estimate has the mill generating nearly $2.3 million more next year than will be spent. If that happens, board members want any money left over put in reserve for future years.

Citizens for Strong Schools, the political action committee formed last year to support that property tax referendum, has started a new campaign encouraging school parents to contact the offices of Gov. Charlie Crist and state legislators and urge them to make public schools a top funding priority in the upcoming session.

On Tuesday, Crist vetoed some of the budget cuts from the Legislature's special session. On K-12 education, he restored bonus pay to national board-certified teachers.

Alachua County School District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said the bonuses were deserved but the vetoes did not restore any money for classroom spending.

Following nearly $3.7 million in cuts in the special session, the school district has lost more than $17 million in state funding since the start of this school year.

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