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Flagler School Board Defends Its Own Budget Cutting, Batting Down Most Alternatives

| May 17, 2011

Under dimmer lights, the school board--with Chairwoman Sue Dickinson, left, and Superintendent Janet Valentine--considered, then moved on past alternative budget cuts. (FlaglerLive)

It’s an unintentional alliance: Flagler County’s teacher and service employee unions on one side and the county’s tea party on the other are questioning how the local school board is balancing its budget. The unions are displeased with a plan that would cut $3.5 million, or 3 percent of the district’s budget, mostly by laying off about 40 teachers. The tea party questioned whether the district had ever done a management study of its staffing ratios, and is inviting a senior administrator at its monthly meeting tonight to explain school budgeting.

Tuesday morning, the school board administration countered with a line-item defense, addressing—and batting down—each concern while re-asserting its own approach. The district is moving ahead, with no additional meetings on the matter, to implement the cuts it agreed to previously, and negotiated, albeit one-sidedly, with the unions, who were presented with little choice but to go along.

“For me personally at this point we need to move forward as we have been,” Sue Dickinson, who chairs the school board, said, “and in the event we end up with additional financial crises, these are items that we can certainly look at as options.”

Later in the day Superintendent Janet Valentine clarified that the board’s decision does not mean the administration won’t continue negotiating and working through other possibilities.

“They board did not feel that the school board needs to meet on these,” Valentine clarified. “These will be management decisions, and negotiations will continue regarding the items that have been set forth, for instance the reduced working days for employees. We did find additional reductions in here based on those suggestions that we’re moving forward with—that was a reduction in administrators, textbook reductions, and the textbook reductions are because we’re purchasing online textbooks. We’re going to pursue the advertising on buses, sports fields, etc., so we did take suggestions from here.”

Valentine added: “Indeed we are continuing to negotiate on the things that will impact salary conditions and working conditions for our employees.”

In a brief presentation to the board, Mike Judd, the director of facilities, outlined in broad strokes how district staffing is either in line or below recommended staffing formulas. He said he’d tracked down a management study the district conducted in 2006 with Educational Management Consulting Services. Valentine followed by taking on 41 suggestions put forward either by the Flagler County Education Association—the teachers’ union—or by school employees, who could, over the past two months, send in their suggestions anonymously through the district’s web site.

Among the suggestions: by-passing the scheduled adoption of new science textbooks this year, closing Old Kings Elementary, elimination the district’s strings orchestra program, eliminating after-school busing, cutting one counselor out of each school and reducing the number of days the district’s two athletic directors work each year, eliminating some administrators, moving Pathways, the alternative school, and Phoenix Academy, the district’s specialized school, cutting back vacation and sick days, eliminating all sports programs, going to a four-day school week, and so on.

Item by item, Valentine explained, from the district’s perspective, what was and what wasn’t feasible at this point. Regarding science textbook adoptions, for example, she said an early estimate by the teachers union that delaying adoption would save $4 million was inaccurate. (The union had put forth that number but retracted it weeks ago.) The year’s entire cost of textbook adoptions, Valentine said, would be $162,000, though–as noted above–the suggestion of saving money on textbooks was endorsed by buying more electronic books, a saving hard-copy books.

Enforcing the staffing formula through “managed attrition” while respecting class-size requirements will save $2.1 million, Valentine said—that’s the $2.1 million the district will save by eliminating 40 teachers.

The Legislature this spring significantly relaxed class-size ratio requirements, which should translate into additional savings for school districts. The presumably cost-saving consequences of that development were not discussed Tuesday.

Among other savings that will be realized next year: ensuring that Good Friday is part of spring break will save the district the cost of 138 substitute teachers, a cost it had to carry this year. Regarding the strings program—the Flagler Youth Orchestra, a county-wide after-school program hosted by Indian Trails Middle School—Valentine said its cost to the district, $54,000 for the year, was justified by the 300-some students enrolled in the program. (More than 300 enrolled at the beginning of the year. The numbers fell to about 250 by year’s end.) “It’s extremely cost-effective per student,” Valentine said, noting that the program also enables high school students to earn credit, which gives them more alternatives in light of electives being reduced within the school day. (Toward the end of the meeting, School Board member Andy Dance said programs like the youth orchestra need community support to survive, and pointed to the program’s drive for sponsors of sheet music as an example.)

The four-day school week? “There’s a huge impact on families here,” Valentine said. She is interested in looking at other school districts that would be attempting it before considering it locally.

The board, the administration and the unions have been dealing with budget cuts since March, though by late April the district’s approach was essentially set. Recommendations from the unions or from employees did not significantly change those proposals, which are already being implemented as schools prepare their schedules for next year and the district prepares its overall budget. But some proposals from the unions and the web-based suggestion box were adopted.

When Dickinson asked if the board was interested in scheduling yet another workshop on the proposals Valentine had just discussed, only board member John Fischer said such a meeting might be necessary for “fine-tuning” the numbers. But no other board member was interested.

The lights at the board chambers at the Government Services Building were not at full blast for the board’s Tuesday morning meeting: a mostly symbolic nod to energy savings, which the district projects will net $300,000 district-wide next year.

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11 Responses for “Flagler School Board Defends Its Own Budget Cutting, Batting Down Most Alternatives”

  1. palmcoaster says:

    What do they mean with, moving Pathways and Phoenix alternative schools?. The cuts should be across the board if no other venue and should also affect the charter schools as well….no exemptions would be the fair thing to do. Unfortunately.

  2. Atilla says:

    I fail to see a reason to oppose reducing teaching staff, it is not reported but as been told to me in Volusia that enrollment is down, if we have less students we need fewer teachers. Of course with the reduction of teachers we should also see an administrator or two laid off.

  3. Itchey says:

    If there are going to be 40 teachers layed off, then we should see some reduction in administrative staff, however I do realize that since the layoffs will occur at multiple locations all over the district then the reduction of administration would be impossible without creating a hardship at 1 or 2 locations, so to make it easier i suggest we do this…
    If 40 teachers represent 10% of the teaching staff ( I do not know the numbers) then we should see an accross the board reduction in all of the administrative salary’s after all they have 10% less (or whatever the actuarial number is) to do, right?

  4. Just a question says:

    Why does Rymfire Elementary have three Assistant Principals, while Belle Terre Elementary only has two. The enrollment at BTES is higher. Anyone have than answer???

  5. What says:

    Why would they want to close Old Kings? That doesn’t make sense? They have just as many kids as the other schools.

  6. Out of curiosity says:

    How much do school board members get paid?

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Curiosity, in Flagler County school board members are paid $30,351 a year. See this chart for a list of school board member salaries in Florida, county by county.

  7. Out of curiosity says:

    Thank you…30K plus benefits, and it’s not a full time job….

  8. Val Jaffee says:

    @Out of curiousity

    “When Dickinson asked if the board was interested in scheduling yet another workshop on the proposals Valentine had just discussed, only board member John Fischer said such a meeting might be necessary for “fine-tuning” the numbers. But no other board member was interested.”

    This at 32K plus benefits, and it’s not EVEN a full time job . . .Ain’t life sweet for some folks!

  9. Gottacut says:

    Cut the teachers before the administraters, sounds right. That’s the way most local goverments appear to do business. After all it’s the teachers and local workers that decide how to spend everyones hard earned tax dollars isn’t it?

  10. What says says:

    How did this become a paying job? and how do we get rid of paying the board. The kids are going to suffer from this.

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