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Ending 3rd Budget Drag-Out in 8 Days, School Board Settles on $1.8 Million in Cuts

| May 14, 2013

Wounded, but surviving. (© FlaglerLive)

Wounded, but surviving. (© FlaglerLive)

The numbers stack up: three meetings, eight days, 13 hours, 15 teachers cut and two administrators cut, along with six para-professionals, an entire alternative school for 50 students eliminated, and a slew of other programs eliminated or reduced, all to add up to $1.8 million in cost cuts for the Flagler County School Board ahead of next year’s budget. That’s not counting a $1.7 million dip into the district’s reserves to fill a projected $3.5 million shortfall, or close to 4 percent of the district’s school budget.

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It all ended today on the approach of 5 p.m. as five school board members, some more reluctantly than others, signed off on a budget plan they will formally ratify in a vote next Tuesday, during an official school board meeting. But even that won’t be the final word.

The final word will take place on June 7, a Friday, when Flagler County voters will go to the polls (at least those who haven’t voted already: many have done so, by way of absentee ballots), to decide the fate of a tax referendum for Flagler schools. The district is asking voters to approve a small addition to their property taxes. The levy equates to 50 cents per $1,000 in taxable value, or the equivalent of $50 for a house valued at $125,000, with a homestead exemption. (The exemption applies only to the first $25,000, unlike exemptions for county and other taxes, which apply to $50,000).

The money, the school board says, will not only restore the cuts projected for next year, but enable the board to restore 45 minutes to the school day–45 minutes eliminated from middle and high school students’ days two years ago in a cost-saving measure. The cut has affected academic choices and quality. It has also affected parental schedules, as students are returned home (or to streets) 45 minutes earlier. The property tax supplement will raise roughly $4 million a year, which will also enable the district to pay for school cops at all levels, not just in middle and high schools (as is the case now), though in retrospect, the board may have recognized that making that pledge put it further on a limb than it wanted to go: the school-cop issue is not nearly as urgent as it was in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre in December, and may have created a backlash that could hurt rather than help the referendum on June 7.

Briefly, the district considered several more drastic budget cuts it did not finally approve: closing one or two full-service schools (Wadsworth and Old Kings Elementary were discussed, as was Indian Trails Middle), which would have saved around $1.5 million per school. Eliminating busing for elementary school students who live less than 2 miles from their school. And eliminating “wheel” classes, or such things as art, music and science classes, in elementary schools, to enable a 45-minute cut in that school day. Each of these options found a strong enough coalition of champions on the board to prevent it from making it onto the cut list. Nine media aide positions were similarly saved–not because board members advocated for them, but because principals did.

But Everest alternative school could be history. The school serves roughly 50 students at a cost of $916,000. Some of the students, who have felonies on their record, would not be allowed on a school campus. So the school’s closure mans expulsion to them. Others will have to be accommodated by designated teachers at individual schools. But the school’s closure is a blow to the district, and to the county’s larger security concerns, as many troubled students who would otherwise be receiving an education, under proper supervision, will be left to their own devices again. The school was dispensable, however, because it has no real political constituency to speak of: if other segments of the district’s operations could draw on tenacious defenders, Everest was not likely to get championed by a constituency made up of students who’ve been expelled from their own schools. It was a soft target, and it accounted for more than a quarter of the projected cuts. Again: Everest would remain open if the June 7 referendum passes.

sue dickinson flagler county school board flaglerlive

Sue Dickinson (© FlaglerLive)

And while 15 teachers and two administrators’ positions would be cut, none of those 17 positions would have required a principal or an administrator to face an individual and say: you’re fired (or laid off). Each of these positions was cut thanks to retirements or attrition. That’s not the case with the six para-professionals (that is, support personnel in the exceptional or special education department), who will end up losing their job. Board member Sue Dickinson fought hard for them, flirting with anger when it appeared as if the board and the administration were stacked against her. She stretched the battle well into today. But by the middle of the afternoon, she raised the white flag.

“I tried to save the jobs, I lost. Let’s move on,” Dickinson said, as Tracy Umpenhour, the director of exceptional education, was concluding an equally compelling case to cut the “paras,” as para-professionals are known in the district.

“I don’t think anyone would ever deny that we could use more people and more hands. There is always more need for: Teachers, Bus drivers, Administrators etc.,” she’d written in a plan justifying the cuts. “Paras are no different. If we have the people we will always find a way to utilize them, but there has to be some method or reason to justify.” And enrollment didn’t justify staying at the same level. Umpenhour laid out a case that showed the district essentially 22 positions over its absolute need.

“Just end it, please. Don’t get me started again,” Dickinson had said at the end of the discussion. Para-professionals make very little money: $18,000 a year, less than a living wage in Flagler County. The cuts will yield $112,000 in savings.

The Adult Education department was under a microscope for two of the three meetings, with board members demanding clear numbers showing whether the department–which is supposed to be self-sustaining–is living up to its mission. Assistant Superintendent Jacob Oliva said that by year’s end, the department would be showing a surplus of around $80,000 this year and next, but that next year the department’s workforce development funding (a federal and state supported funding source) will be cut 16 percent, or $344,000, requiring serious cuts in the Adult Education department. Those will include the elimination of the culinary program, for example, the elimination of two community education teachers and several other cuts totaling $332,000 in savings.


At the end of the meeting, board members summed up the toll by offering up a few final suggestions of their own. Trevor Tucker suggested eliminating the board’s membership in the state and national school board associations. Board members agreed–but only for a year or two, saving roughly $17,000 a year. Board members travel to association events to keep up with their position’s legalities and broader board issues, and to train as board members. Tucker, who runs his own business, is not fond of those trips, though Colleen Conklin wryly told him that she was all for cutting the budget next year of the year after Tucker would join his fellow-board members in some training.

Dickinson wondered what the legalities are for the district to stop funding–to the tune of $180,000 a year–its students enrolled both in the district and at Daytona State College. The state now requires local districts to pay that bill, an “unfunded mandate” Dickinson finds outrageous, considering the mission of school districts: to educate children in kindergarten through 12th grade, not in college. “Where does it stop and we can take the dollars and put it in the general education?” Dickinson asked. “What’s the fine if we don’t do it?”

Janet Valentine, the superintendent, cautioned that “It is Florida statute and it is very specific on dual enrollment.”

Undeterred, Dickinson said, looking at the board attorney: ““Ask around and see what kind of penalties there might be. That could be a big cost saving.”

Andy Dance, the board chairman, suggested that the district revive its business advisory committee and examine the board’s organizational structure, which board members had analyzed for two hours Tuesday, in hopes of perhaps detecting further cost savings in future years.

Lucky for the board, another local government advisory panel had reserved the chambers Tuesday evening. With that in mind, Dance adjourned the meeting, which had nevertheless been the best attended of the last eight days’ three workshops: aside from school personnel, there had been at least five or six people unaffiliated with the district in attendance. It’s more than Conklin’s weekly Wednesday information session on the tax levy managed to draw last week. That number was zero.

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31 Responses for “Ending 3rd Budget Drag-Out in 8 Days, School Board Settles on $1.8 Million in Cuts”

  1. Palmcoastconcernedcitizen says:

    So how much did their new logo cost us? Because a new logo is so important. Also why do they keep buying new reading series books? They just replaced them a couple of years ago? That costs almost a million dollars?

    • An Educated Citizen says:

      The logo was free, created by a county employee.

      Textbooks are purchased every 5 years. The books currently in use were put in classrooms the 08-09 school year. Five years is not a couple.

  2. Justin says:

    Vote no on June 7th
    To School board , I have been in ESE all thoughout middle and Elementary school and I believe that the issues of laying off teacher aids doesn’t need to be pushed to the side, when I was In school I couldn’t image what it would be like without a teacher assistant, you people up there in the county office are the ones who will be getting the money if this vote passes, how about cut your pay.

    • An Educated Citizen says:

      You’re worried about the people whose positions are being cut, but you are voting No. That makes no sense.

  3. mary says:

    The board should all take a $20,000.00 cut each for their part time positions. Would save the county tons of money and they would still be making more than the poor para’s that work 5 days aweek plus a second job and some work during the summer just to make ends meet.

  4. PC Dad says:

    Hmmm, has anyone figured out that Janet Valentine throws out at the last meeting that the schools have enough capacity to close a middle and elementary school and no one else knew this? That’s mismanagement at the tune of $3 million dollars.

    I have a cost savings idea: cut Valentine’s job IMMEDIATELY and use that to keep the paras.

  5. mellie says:

    Where is the money we once had for our schools? Why don’t we have it anymore?

    • Brad W says:

      Mellie,

      Here’s what the the Board doesn’t like saying . . . how much they do have and are getting. Over $100M a year.

      The second question is even more important . . . why don’t they have it anymore? Myabe the decision to hold a vote that costs them $80,000+ that could have been free in November is one reason. Maybe a $10,000 annual award for a teacher is another. Maybe $30,000+ to send graduations out of county is one.

      You don’t solve financial mismanagement by throwing more money at the problem.

  6. Realty Check says:

    Again no mention of the assistant superintendent; how is this six figure job warranted in a district this size? This school board needs to go, and the people of Flagler need to remember this entire bureaucratic BS when election time comes, send the message that politicians no longer do what they want, they do what the people say.

  7. Interested Party says:

    I’m curious.. how much monies would be saved if the Schools closed down just one month during the summer?? Any important functions (i.e. registrations etc.. ) can be done at the County Office for one month. Think of the savings there.

    • An Educated Citizen says:

      That is an excellent idea. You should forward that to the board and superintendant. The biggest drawback is the loss of income for those employees. Overall, though, I love this idea.

  8. Gia says:

    Assistant superintendent is useless & a complete waist of $$$. Wadsworth must be close.

  9. kmedley says:

    “The money, the school board says, will not only restore the cuts projected for next year, but enable the board to restore 45 minutes to the school day–45 minutes eliminated from middle and high school students’ days two years ago in a cost-saving measure. The cut has affected academic choices and quality. It has also affected parental schedules, as students are returned home (or to streets) 45 minutes earlier.”

    The proposed cuts, $1.8 million, and the proposed dip into the reserves, $1.7 million, are being put forth with fingers crossed in hopes the referendum will pass. The School Board hopes to realize an additional $4 million which as reported will “restore the cuts projected for next year”. Proposing cuts and then hoping they are restored by the taxpayers does not meet the need of making tough choices.

    As I have said, our parents and their parents learned to do more with less; it’s time we teach our children those same lessons.

    • An Educated Citizen says:

      Teach your children that at HOME. The cuts should not be made in their education.

      We would not have to spend as much money on the jail if we spent half as much on EDUCATION.

  10. confidential says:

    Cut 17 teachers and 6-8 para professionals making 18,000/year, but no administrators making 6 figures…?
    Like I said …”something is very wrong with this picture”

  11. Anonymous genius taxpayer concerned citizen insider says:

    REED MY LIPS – NO KNEW TAXES!!!!

    SCREW THOSE KIDS AND THOSE WORTHLESS TEECHERS

  12. Happy says:

    Why start cutting the paraprofessionals? Start from top, where the salaries are bigger. Why do we have so many asst. principals? According to FPCHS website they have 5 asst principals. Why? Paras are a huge asset to our schools!

  13. Say What? says:

    @Anonymous genius taxpayer concerned citizen insider

    Flagler County teachers do their best to educate every child in this district, and they will continue to do so regardless of a budget deficit. They won’t do it because of money, summers off or whatever other “perks” people think teachers get. They’ll do it because they care about each and every student that comes through their classroom. They’ll do it because they actually care about what happens in each child’s future.

  14. Sherry Epley says:

    According to the latest survey by the National School Board Association (NSBA.ORG) the majority of school board members across the nation devote less than 25 hours per week to those duties. Here is a quote about their compensation:

    Board Member Compensation
    Two-thirds of the 759 respondents who provided information about compensation report
    receiving no salary for their board service (see Table 15). Another 9.6 percent report that they earn less
    than $2,000 a year. Just one in five respondents is paid $2,000 or more a year in board salary, and
    only 3.4 percent are paid $10,000 or more. In general, about three-fourths of board members earn
    little or nothing for their service.
    Again, these general figures mask significant variation across districts. Almost 90 percent of
    small-district respondents earn $2,000 a year or less, and none reports earning as much as $10,000 a
    year. While most large-district boards are also generally unpaid, nearly a quarter of large-district
    respondents do earn $10,000 or more per year for their service. Compensation in large districts is put
    into perspective by the earlier finding that a substantial number of board members report devoting 20
    hours or more a week to board affairs.

    When our Florida School Boards and executive administrators start cutting their pay, in favor of more money being spent directly on higher quality education for the students, I will happily vote for and pay higher taxes for better education for future generations.

  15. Are you serious says:

    Absolutely Sherry !!! I have no problems dipping into my wallet and paying more taxes for the betterment of the children in Flagler county…Everyone agrees teachers need all the help, programs, etc. they can get to educate Flaglers kids…but someone making 6 figures is telling us average income taxpayers to pay more….sigh….as many have said on this post….STOP!! As soon as the “paraprofessionals” are brought back and these idiots cut their six figure, cozy, live the high life, salaries…I will be first in line to vote YES and pay a little more….otherwise, HELL NO

    • An Educated Citizen says:

      By voting NO, you are not punishing them, though. You are punishing the teachers and students.

      • Brad W says:

        There’s the problem right there, “AN Educated Citizen”! You are advocating for allowing the problem to continue out of fear. You know it’s a problem. You know it’s not right. But you would rather allow it to continue at the expense of others. )My God, I hope you all aren’t teaching this stuff to our kids in the schools. Yikes!)

        That’s what the opposition is saying . . . fix it! And the way to fix it is through accountability!! The wate is obvious and blatant, but no one is standing up and saying ENOUGH!! We pay dearly in the this county for education and the schools AND we demand the money be used responsibly which is our right. Our homes are a limitless ATM for the schools because they refuse to get their financial house in order!

        And the jail argument doesn’t make much sense either. We have highly rated schools and I have never lived in a town with so many teens breaking into cars and houses. If the schools are the solution to that . . . they are doing an extremely poor job and everyone should be fired.

  16. Jimmy PC says:

    So the ones really needing help, at Everest, will be cut due to not having a voice out there for them. While Pheonix stays as is for those special few there. We either handle and help those at Everest now, or it will cost us later down the road in some way.

    I agree with all the comments about starting from the top. No reduction in ast. principles, ast. super of schools (why needed for this size of dept?) or even board members. Amazing they aren’t starting at the top. Get serious.

    I really enjoy reading all the teacher bashing comments. You can always tell those people who have no clue the responsibilities teachers have. Go spend a day volunteering at a school and see.

  17. Sherry Epley says:

    By the way. . . our Flagler County Board of Education members make over $30,000 a year for putting in no more than an average of a maximum of 25 hours a week. That equates to about $24.00 an hour for a powerful, part time elected position that essentially has no academic or professional qualifications. For a position that in the majority of states is a voluntary post. Yes, there is fat to be carved in the school districts in Florida, but not in the way that is currently being considered.

    Let’s start putting the education of students FIRST!

  18. mellie says:

    Why aren’t we asking these school board people exactly this?

    “When our Florida School Boards and executive administrators start cutting their (own) pay”??

    The question begs to be asked–do we know if it HAS been asked? Is Flagler Live (or any other reporting org) actually asking this question at the meetings and it’s simply not being given an answer? If that’s the case, isn’t that part of the story, too?

    Did I miss something? I may have, so I went back and re-read these last few accounts of these meetings. And I don’t see it even being discussed. Look, “voters” cannot be the only thing holding these board people accountable, votes only take place every so often. What I want to know is, what is our press is doing to “press” the issue with them in the meantime, to be sure those arbiters of the educational trust are addressing ANY and ALL means to make these “cuts”? It just doesn’t sound to me like that’s happening, and that is something else people should be aware of. Does the board try to cut those at the top too, only to be told “back off, administrators are untouchable”? Does the board even try to ask? What happens when or if they do?

    Does the reporter try to ask these questions, only to be told to back off, the public doesn’t need to know? These are all obvious questions which should at least be mentioned in any report about these meetings. It sounds to me, as it’s written, that the subject just flat-out never comes up, other than when the actual readers of these reports comment, over and over again, “Why don’t they cut the people making six figures, calling themselves “administrators”, who make obscene amounts of money to do a part time job?”

  19. sam says:

    I would like to know where does all the money go for the advertisement on the Flagler School site. Those people advertising are paying money, why not put that extra money into our schools, close Indian Trails that is currently empty with many rooms not being used, redistrict Wadsworth students and have a Middle School that could house both and save 3 million. Lets use our brains. I know the district needs money, we all do. But I believe having a school that has empty rooms is the biggest waste of money. Please redo the books. It is not too late to do this, you would have to do this move after the kids are out of school for the summer anyway, so waiting an extra year is costing our school system 3 million dollars. Let us do it this year.

  20. confidential says:

    Good point Sam. All that advertising income where does it go..? maybe mostly to the advertising agencies, someone’s cozy in the school administration, other than the kids? Please accountability is demanded. As far is concerned Florida State…where are the millions in lottery income originally to be used for education? More accountability demanded. We are being fleeced big time.

  21. Joanne says:

    I like Sam’s idea, close ITMS this coming year, save 3 million,

  22. Hmmmm says:

    Lets compare these salaries and positions to now….. Have we scaled down the Taj? No! But we are going to cut $18,000 Paras…really?
    http://flaglerlive.com/25478/flaglerhttp://flaglerlive.com/25478/flagler-school-administrators/-school-administrators/

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