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Facing $3.5 Million Deficit, Flagler Schools Eye Shorter Calendar, Bus Routes, Reserves

| February 10, 2011

Right to walk: when it comes to funding local school districts, Florida is a no-show state. (© FlaglerLive)

Facing the most serious reduction in state revenue since the economic crisis began in 2008, the Flagler County school district is preparing to cut $3.5 million out of its budget while using about $1 million from its reserves to blunt further, more grave effects from the reductions. The district’s goal is to minimize staff reductions and protect academic and extra-curricular programs, particularly the larger programs. But Superintendent Janet Valentine says all options are—and have to be—considered, including reducing her own pay as part of a larger reduction in the number of days year-long employees would work.

In an interview Wednesday, Valentine cited reducing bus routes, cutting down by several days the working calendar of year-long employees such as administrators and service employees, and not filling vacant positions, which would be the equivalent of a hiring freeze.

Valentine said the district had been preparing for a $2.5 million cut until this week. Following the release of Gov. Rick Scott’s budget this week, she said the district must now prepare for a $3.5 million cut out of a budget of around $100 million. Finance Director Tom Tant said the budget has already been reduced about $7.5 million since 2007.

“The real thing about the governor’s budget is,” Tant said, “he’s reducing educating funding in Florida, per-child expenditure for education in the state of Florida is one of the lowest in the nation already. That’s what people are missing. We’re probably 48th or 49th—if it weren’t for Mississippi we’d be bottom, and we’re still getting reduced. So where are your priorities? I mean, you’re letting your kids down. Is that the way we want Florida to be known as? I think that is the real issue.”

Until there Legislature, which has been cool to Scott’s budget, decides how far to take the cuts,, the district won’t know precisely what it will lose. But even if state lawmakers left things as they are, Flagler would still be losing the millions of dollars it had received through federal aid. It is unlikely that legislators won’t approve at least some additional cuts, including in the property tax that lawmakers set every year for school revenue.

“I don’t really know how deep these cuts are going to have to go,” Valentine said. Rather than reacting to cuts as they come, she’s been leading a budget committee since last summer in preparation for further cuts, laying out options.  “We will continue to plan and be prepared for going as deep as we need to go to meet the limits of our budget next year.”

But one principle is in play regarding non-core, after-school programs: “We really want to protect the things that we know service large groups of students, and large groups of students benefit from them. We could get to the point where those are cut,” Valentine said.

Valentine insisted on two cautions: the district must still abide by constitutional class-size rules. That means cutting teachers isn’t the sort of option it might have been in the past. “So you have to look at this in other ways rather than targeting 78 positions. You can’t do it that way,” Valentine said. There are about 100 paraprofessionals such as teacher aids, but they, too, are there because of requirements in exceptional student education programs, providing support to students with disabilities, and the like. “So your hands are really tied with this,” the superintendent said.

And whatever options the district is considering, those are still, for now, just options: nothing has been decided, particularly when it comes to cutting employees’ work days. Nevertheless, Valentine noted that Flagler is among the only counties where its year-round employees work the full 261 days. About 25 percent of the district’s 1,700 employees work that year-round calendar. One possibility is to cut that by a few days, though the savings would not be huge: if the average salary of year-round employees is $40,000, cutting reducing the paid calendar by five days would save $334,000, or about $67,000 a day. (“I’d be right in there with them,” Valentine said of taking a pay cut of her own should that be the route.)

Just last December, the district agreed to a new contract with its teacher and service employee unions, restoring annual salary increases that were skipped twice in the past three years. While the contract leaves room for the district to invoke emergency recalculations, those increases are not in jeopardy, Valentine said, though she expects the union and the district administration to cooperate on other cost-saving alternatives. By agreeing to that contract in December, the district strengthened its hand at the bargaining table when it comes to those alternatives. “What we anticipate is that our unions will be working with us to plan on how to meet these needs,” Valentine said.

Voters in November agreed to extend a modest property surtax that adds $2 million to the district’s revenue. The district has room to double that, but only through yet another referendum. That’s not being discussed.

Like Florida’s 66 other school districts, Flagler schools are facing a triple hit in the coming budget:

First, federal stimulus dollars that brought in $5.2 million in the past two years and prevented dozens of layoffs have run out.

Second, Scott is proposing an unprecedented cut in state and local education funding of $878 million ($1.75 billion when vanishing federal aid is included in the cuts). Flagler’s reduction, in the governor’s numbers, would be $4.5 million, though Tant says that number is inflated because Scott’s figures for Flagler are based on a few hundred students less than the county actually had. The governor’s budget would equate to a loss of $300 per student, or roughly $4 million for the district. That’s the equivalent of 78 teachers.

Third, Flagler County’s population has stopped growing. The school population declined by a few dozen students this year, the first decline in memory. It may decline again next year. Flat or declining population means flat or declining state aid, in addition to the proposed cuts based on this year’s figures.

Almost all school employees (the exception is those in the deferred retirement option program, or DROP) face a severe financial hit of their own. Scott wants all public employees to start contributing 5 percent of their pay to the state retirement system they’re a part of. (All other states require their employees to contribute a share, though public employees in most other states, particularly teachers and other school employees, are better paid than in Florida.) For a teacher making $40,000 a year, that’s a $2,000 pay cut. Employees won’t be getting that money back for paying more. Their retirement pay will be the same.

And all that is without taking in consideration Scott’s other goal: to further dilute public education dollars by flowing them directly to charter schools, or into vouchers for private schools.

The district’s reserves were at $8 million last year. They’re at $7 million this year. The lowest they can go, Tant said, is $4 million. But there is room in the next couple of years to dip into them at the rate of about $1 million a year, and hope for the economy to have picked up by then. Meanwhile, more declines in property values are anticipated on top of the governor’s wide-ranging budget cuts.

“It scares me,” Valentine said, describing what she felt when she was hearing the governor deliver his budget message Monday. “It scares me for public education.”

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12 Responses for “Facing $3.5 Million Deficit, Flagler Schools Eye Shorter Calendar, Bus Routes, Reserves”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    Sometimes you have to do bad things to stop people from doing bad things to you. Individual distrricts could sue the governor for not providing conditions to carry out quality education for the children of the state; That demand is in the state constitution. This is not the time to be nice, otherwise public education will be a thing of the past and it will start right here in Florida,

  2. A parent says:

    Amen, Mr. Guines! I’m not just a parent of a Flagler middle-schooler I’m also a school employee. Scott scares me on SO many different levels.

  3. val jaffee says:


    Public school teachers are twice as likely as other parents to send their children to private schools, according to a recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. In fact, in 16 major cities, more than 1 in 4 teachers send their children to private schools.

    In what seems to be a compelling argument for school choice, the study found:

    In Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, 25 percent of public school teachers send their children to private schools..
    In Philadelphia, 44 percent of teachers send their children to private schools; the percentage is similar in several other cities — Cincinnati, 41 percent, Chicago, 39 percent and Rochester, 38 percent.
    In the San Francisco-Oakland area, 34 percent of teachers send their children to private schools; following close behind are New York City and the New Jersey suburbs, with 33 percent, and Milwaukee and New Orleans, where 29 percent of public school teachers choose private schools.
    Reasons teachers gave for sending their children to private schools included greater discipline at private and religious schools, higher academic achievement and a better atmosphere overall.

    Nationwide, about 12 percent of all families in suburban, urban and rural areas send their children to private schools.

    Source: George Archibald, “Public Schools No Place for Teachers’ Kids,” Washington Times, September 22, 2004; and Dennis P. Doyle et al., “Where do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?” Thomas B. Fordham Institute, September 7, 2004.

  4. someone says:

    @ Val – I’d look at that from another angle. There are other factors that are contributing to why this is the case.

  5. PC MAN says:

    Mr Jaffee shouldn’t you headline be 3 out of 4 teachers trust their children to be educated in public schools as opposed to 1 in 4 send their children to private schools ? I have no idea why conservatives hate public schools as much as they do. Are you willing to have higher taxes to send children to private schools ? Every plan for vouchers involves giving parents a ridiculously low amount which wouldn’t cover four months in a private school . The alternative to that are religious schools which are tax exempt and would try to teach children that the earth is 6000 years old and man and dinosaurs coexisted. It’s no surprise that your sources The Washington Times very right wing and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute which is known to be public education unfriendly agree with you.

  6. I don't get it says:

    My son is a senior this year. He needed 1.5 credits to graduate this May, but was forced to take 6 full credits to stay enrolled in public school. I wonder how many other students were in the same position? I completely support a students choice to carry the maximum amount of credits each school year, but I think the school could see significant savings if students were not forced to take extra credits beyond what is required.

  7. val jaffee says:

    [Making a claim for] The legal status of Florida’s school voucher programs

    In the Florida Supreme Court decision Bush v. Holmes, 919 So. 2d 392 (Fla. 2006), The Florida Supreme Court’s decision rests substantially on Article IX, Section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution, in particular the second and third sentences, which say that “it is … a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.

    The Court delivered a blow to education reformers . . . by noting that “because voucher payments reduce funding for the public education system, the [voucher program] by its very nature undermines the system of “high quality” free public schools.

    [However] Under the same theory, one might wonder if, as one of the lower ranking education systems in the nation, public schools in Florida are unconstitutional on the basis that they are not “high quality.”

    The Court could just as easily have said that the state must enact a voucher program because the state constitution requires “high quality” public schools (which it currently does not have) and competition is necessary to achieve that goal.

    The truth is that rather than undermining the system of supposedly “high quality’ public schools, the threat of pupils and funding being diverted to private schools would force public schools to improve.

    From The Journal of the James Madison Institute

  8. teacher says:

    Flagler schools needs to (and I am sure they will) look at all of the possible solutions. I think that “I don’t get it” has a valid point. The students currently are taking 7 courses in the high schools. Why? They only need 6 per year to graduate. Who is paying for that extra class? We are.

    Have they considered what some other districts are doing. In Miami-Dade, they have brought FLVS into the classrooms by creating labs where a facilitator makes sure the kids are working and students take the course online. This is another saving and another way to meet class reduction rules. We already have iFlagler, why not use it.

  9. Bob Z. says:

    How can teachers be required to contribute to their pensions when that benefit was included in the contracts they signed when they hired? Isn’t it illegal for the State to break contracts? I guess the questions will be answered if a class-action lawsuit is filed.

  10. Jim Guines says:

    The next step will be reorganizing the responsibility of education to come under the governor and abolish the boards of education. This has been the trend in local communities where the mayors have taken over the running of school districts. Washington DC, Newark N.J. New York and others. I am sure the governor has looked into this model.

  11. ForEducation says:

    We could just do a away with free public education since everybody seems to think it’s broken. We can set up all schools as private schools, then just like buying a car you get the quality you can afford to pay for. If you can afford to buy the Mercedes or Ferarri then great, but if you can only afford to clunker use Ford Pinto then that’s what you get.

  12. Mike says:

    To Bob Z. :It is not a question of “if a class action lawsuit will be filed.” It’s more like “when.” Our newly elected “governor” (and I use this term loosely) is in for a major fight and a ton of bad press as a result. Of course, scandal and controversy is something he is quite used to anyway so he will feel right at home.

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