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It’s Not Just Flagler: Across Florida, Schools Contend With $1 Billion Less for Education

| July 7, 2011

florida education cuts

Tallahassee teething. (© Dino Abatzidis)

A first-year teacher from Broward County is likely out of a job. But if that same teacher worked in Hillsborough County, his or her job would be safe.

The dust is starting to settle after months of lengthy public hearings, brutal negotiations and hand-wringing over the budgets of Florida’s 67 school districts. But the effect of this year’s budget shortfalls is felt differently across the state, with some districts cutting hundreds of teachers off their payroll and others only making minor adjustments.

Most school district boards start their budget writing process in April and finish by September.

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Due to the loss of federal stimulus dollars and a significant drop in funding from the state, districts statewide are grappling with budget shortfalls that range from a few million to upwards of $170 million.

The Legislature cut over $1 billion from education in this year’s budget, one of the largest cuts to education in the state’s history, amounting to a drop of almost 8 percent, or $542 per student. Before the cut, Florida was already near the bottom of the table in the United States in per-student funding.

“It’s a bigger cut coming on top of three or four more years of cuts and it’s obviously having a huge impact,” said Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow. “It’s making it more difficult for our schools to serve our students and serve them well.”

Pudlow said teachers are in the budget-cutting bulls-eye this year, and that the cuts to school funding this year are “by far the biggest” in decades.

But Republican budget writers defended cutting the education budget as a necessary sacrifice with a tough economy and declining tax revenues. No part of the budget was left unscathed and education was shielded from the worst cuts, say lawmakers who helped crafted the education budget.

Still, districts were left with a buffet of unappetizing budget cutting choices, such as furloughs, layoffs and cuts to popular after-school programs, transportation and school safety officers.

The result: In Broward County, over 1,400 teachers are without a job. In Duval County, some sports programs are being eliminated, 87 teachers are being laid off, and bus service is curtailed. In Miami Dade County, the salaries of 400 top administrators, principals and assistant principals will be slashed. And in Marion County, the next academic year may bring with it longer school days and a four-day work week.

Flagler County budgeted for about a 3 percent cut in its $100 million budget, projecting a loss of some 40 teachers and reducing the school day by instructional 45 minutes, or three wees’ worth of school time. The school board also awarded a 2 percent raise to teachers and service employees. It originally resisted doing the same for top administrators. But it has decided to look at that issue again, as the board is divided between those who want administrators to get the raises and those who don’t.

Other districts, such as Orange County, were able to escape large budget shortfalls. That’s because Orange County passed a local property tax to bolster school funding. Hillsborough, where Tampa is located, was also able to whittle away at a $100 million budget shortfall without slashing jobs, the St. Petersburg Times reported. Districts were also able to use a windfall from the money they no longer had to contribute to the Florida Retirement System on behalf of their employees. That 3 percent cut out of employee’s wages translated into a 3 percent equivalent increase in districts’ revenue.

Factors that impact how much a school has to cut include whether or not the district saved any federal stimulus dollars, whether their enrollment numbers are rising or falling, and how much property taxes have declined.

Schools received about $1.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars. But districts received conflicting messages on whether to spend or save the money. Those that chose to save saw gentler budget shortfalls this year. Those that spent – such as Broward County – suffered larger budget cuts.

The size of the shortfall varies with each district.

Broward was one of the hardest hit school districts. The school had to lay off 1,400 teachers and nearly 600 district employees that included administrators, maintenance and clerical staff. The district is also considering furloughs, confirmed a district spokesman, but no decision has been made as to how many furlough days will be required.

Many of the laid-off Broward teachers were hired in the last two years with one-time funds provided through federal stimulus dollars.

In Marion County, perhaps one of the most controversial school budget cuts was the decision to move toward a four-day week in 2012. Initially the school board was considering a four-day week starting in 2011.

Spokesman Kevin Christian said the district has cut $51 million from its budget since 2007. This year, the district has to cut $24 million and has instituted hiring and spending freezes, is slashing department budgets and is considering cutting out substitute teachers, which would save the district $2 million annually.

“It’s not going to get any easier,” Christian said. “Quite honestly, next year I would be surprised if we did not do the four day week.” That decision is unpopular with some parents because it requires additional daycare.

Schools say they have been battered by years of difficult budget cuts and expect more next year.

Already, Christian said Marion County is bracing for a cut of another $8 million.

–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive

9 Responses for “It’s Not Just Flagler: Across Florida, Schools Contend With $1 Billion Less for Education”

  1. Liana G says:

    “It originally resisted doing the same for top administrators. But it has decided to look at that issue again, as the board is divided between those who want administrators to get the raises and those who don’t.”

    What about the taxpayers? Don’t they/we get a say. I say NO! Use the money to restore the school days and hire more teachers!!!

  2. Merrill says:

    It’s not just that public education has been cut, but millions of dollars have also been diverted to “school choice” programs. The most egregious is the Corporate Tax Scholarship Program that diverts hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to private and mostly religious schools in what is known as a “backdoor voucher” scheme.

    Now we have the outcome of this year’s CS/HJR 1471, a measure that passed both houses of our legislature and was signed by the governor. This bill will place on our ballots in November 2012 a measure to permit the state to directly fund religious schools. This will divert more money from our public schools to private religious schools with little supervision or oversight.

    So, it is either “The legislature cut over $1 billion” from education or, as our legislators would claim “We only cut $500 million and sent it from public schools to private, mostly religious schools.” We have to watch the cuts, but we also have to watch the diversion of valuable funds from our public schools to local private schools.

  3. Bob Z. says:

    Charter schools are another source of funds; however, look at their test scores – most were below the test scores of public schools. And don’t forget vouchers, which will divert even more money from public schools.

  4. Thomas says:

    I’m all for private and religious charter schools. Reading, Writing, Math , VALUES and MORALS need to be taught. You won’t find those classes in a public school.

  5. Liana G says:

    @ Thomas

    You have a point! I went to catholic school, so did my two sisters and brother, also my son during his elementary school years. One sister married into and converted to Hindu in name only, we are all Atheist! Religion can work wonders both ways!

    Besides, I have strong doubts about public education –

    America’s biggest teacher and principal cheating scandal unfolds in Atlanta (July 5, 2011)

    At least 178 teachers and principals in Atlanta Public Schools cheated to raise student scores on high-stakes standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation

    Atlanta Cheating Scandal Unveiled By Reporters

  6. Jack says:

    Good for you Thomas, if you want to pay the tuition for a private or religious charter schools out of your pocket that’s your prerogative, but not on my dime (the taxpayer). And by the way you as a parent should be instilling morals and values in your child’s life, you shouldn’t leave that up to an EDUCATIONAL institute.

  7. mara says:

    Fine, Thomas. Build your own. RELIGIOUS schools are not to be funded by TAXPAYERS.

  8. Lucine says:

    Liana and Thomas: Stop squawking and putting the burden of teaching morals on already overworked and under-appreciated educators. Last I checked, parents are supposed to provide these services…or is that too much to ask for in this day and age?

    Perhaps teachers should also feed, clothe, and bathe your children as well? Oops..too late. 2 out of 3 of these is already taking place. So basically, all parents have to do is give berth. The rest is up to teachers.

  9. Liana G says:


    ‘Last I checked, parents are supposed to provide these services’ Services???

    Are people born with values and morals or are these qualities instilled in them through teachings with reinforcement and correction along the way. Cheating, hate, prejudice, love, tolerance, compassion, etc., are all learned behaviors. Do we ignore unacceptable behaviors when they occur in school simply because it’s the parents responsibility? The argument can also be made about educating them period! Let it be the parents responsibility.

    For those oppose to taxpayers dollars funding religious education. Parents are also taxpayers, and as taxpayers, parents should have the right to choose where they want to send their children to school.

    I am a liberal, I am PROCHOICE. And I strongly believe that choice should also be extended in education as well. The religious tax dollars can go towards educating the non religious in their secular institutions but not the other way around? Liberal Hypocrisy????

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