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Facing $1.6 Million in New Cuts, Flagler School District Is Looking for “Big Ideas”

| March 28, 2012

It's not looking great: the Flagler school district's budget is looking at combined cuts of $3 million over the next two years. (Cast a line)

Budget season comes early in local governments these days: governments are still bleeding revenue. They must figure out early what to cut, and by how much, or what taxes to go after if current formulas aren’t doing the job. Tuesday, it was the Flagler County School Board’s turn. After cutting the current year’s budget by $3 million (out of $97 million) last spring, the district is again looking to cut next year’s budget, this time by $1.6 million.

Judging from their discussions today, school board members are not interested in a repeat of last year’s at-times harrowing public debates and meetings over what to cut. So programs such as the Phoenix Academy, service-learning programs for some 35 students at Princess Place Preserve and Palm Coast’s Linear Park, or further reductions to many employees’ workdays appear, for now, off the table.

The district achieved the majority of its cuts for the current year by reducing the high school and middle school day from seven to six periods and shifting teachers’ planning time to the beginning and end of school, enabling the layoffs of 41 teachers. That “saved” $2.1 million. But that trick has been used up: there are no more means of shaving the school day or gimmicking teacher hours to net additional dollars. Rather, the main reason the district is looking for $1.6 million in cuts is to afford teachers the $1.2 million they’re due in a “step” raise, which ensures that teachers’ salaries are commensurate with additional years of experience.

The district saved close to $300,000 from lower electric bills. But that saving, too, won’t be repeated next year, short of turning off the lights entirely. And fuel costs may well rise, causing the district new headaches.

“We’ve nickeled and dimed categories to death,” board member Andy Dance said. “We need another big idea.”

Or several ideas. Dance and Colleen Conklin proposed several: the district could abandon its current health care plan and self-insure, as the St. Johns school district does, or adopt a new insurance regimen altogether, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The district could offer early retirement to teachers paid at the upper end of the pay scale, and hire younger teacher paid at the lower end. It did so last year, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. It could do so again, depending on the number of teachers who’d qualify.

The district could opt for exclusively digital textbooks, though the savings in that regard are not yet clear because even if up to $20 might be saved per book, there are associated costs of additional technology to ensure the students can access the textbooks.

And there’s one tantalizing option for bean counters, but maybe not as tantalizing for parents or students: eliminating the portable classrooms at Flagler Palm Coast High School, thus saving the leasing cost of those portables, which cost the district 24,000 a year at FPC alone, and $250,000 across the district. Where would those students go? Matanzas High School, under the guise of “choice,” or as Superintendent Janet Valentine put it, “Open up school choice to fill our schools with seats in them.”

“We can do that a lot quicker than redistrict. Redistricting would take another year,” Mike Judd, a senior administrator in charge of facilities, said.

“OK, think we’ve got $1.6 million there?” Valentine asked after about 70 minutes’ presentations and discussions. Dance and board member Trevor Tucker gave a resounding “no.” (Conklin had left by then, to go to another meeting, and Sue Dickinson, who chairs the board, was absent.)

There are other variables that may darken the district’s budget further.

The district spends $860,000 a year on property insurance. Those insurance rates are projected to go up significantly, Tom Tant, the district’s finance director, said, with some projections putting the range of increases for central Florida insurers between 25 percent and 100 percent.

Diesel costs are also rising. In 2009, the district’s school buses and vehicles burned 235,000 gallons of diesel, for a total cost of $589,000. In 2012, the district is projected to burn a total of 260,000 gallons for a cost of $938,600. But that’s at $3.61 per gallon. Every penny increase in diesel costs adds $2,700 to the district’s annualized cost. If, for example, diesel went up to $4.50 a gallon next year, the fuel bill would increase $189,000. That money is not in the budget, and the state, which defrays some of the costs, is sending a mere $32,000. Tant literally scoffed when he mentioned the figure.

And just like Palm Coast and Flagler County, which have been splitting $4 million in annual revenue from a half-cent surcharge to the local sales tax, the school district has been taking in $4 million in annual revenue from its own half-penny surcharge. Both of those are up for renewal this year—at the ballot box. If voters turn down the surtax, the district will be short those $4 million. About $2 million of that won’t necessarily be a serious loss, at least not at first, because it was financing Belle Terre Elementary. The final $2 million payment on that school will be made this year. Still: absent the revenue for infrastructure, the district’s buildings will be left in disrepair. “We could be getting to the point where we can’t even maintain our facilities,” Tant said.

The state is no longer sending capital dollars to districts as it used to. A large chunk of that money is now entirely diverted to charter schools—even though charter schools are privately run, though on the public dime.

The other $2 million out of that sales tax revenue pays for the district’s technology group: it enhances technology in classrooms and pays the salaries of 27 people. If voters turn down the sales tax, those jobs disappear.

“I’m just full of good news. Sorry,” Tant said wryly at one point.

The school board made no decisions today. Valentine will schedule a focus group with members of the community and school staff shortly after spring break in hopes of generating fresh ideas on what to cut. The board will then set another meeting for mid-April when it will take on the cuts in more details, and settle on specific cuts. The district is reinstating a link on its website that invites district staff to make their own suggestions. The link is not valid without a “token,” which is distributed exclusively to district staff.

The revenue drought isn;t over. Next year, Tant said, there’ll be yet another round of cuts of about $1.5 million.

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21 Responses for “Facing $1.6 Million in New Cuts, Flagler School District Is Looking for “Big Ideas””

  1. SAW says:

    Simple take more people out of their administative positions, and put them back in the class rooms to perfom the job they were hired to do in the first place. As they say too many cooks and not enough bottle washers.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    @Saw. Correct.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Cut more bus routes. Couldn’t the Elementary kids go to 2 miles instead of 1. How much will this save?

  4. songbird says:

    Did the school system ever end up with corporate sponsors to place ads on school buses, etc? I know it was considered a year or two ago.

  5. Jim J says:

    Cut admin positions. Cut health care costs.

  6. Mitzi Gee says:

    Don’t start school in August, when its the hottest. Start it in September. That will save money on AC costs.

    Make the days longer, but only have 4 school days per week. Kids shouldn’t be getting out of school at 1:30 (middle school), that’s just ridiculous! All schools, all grades, should go from 9:00 – 3:00, at the minimum, and only go Monday thru Thursday. School absolutely MUST start later! These kids are getting up way too early and it isn’t healthy for them. Kids need more sleep than adults, and teenagers need more sleep than the littler kids.

    Anonymous, the problem with the bus routes situation is that school starts WAY too early and many more kids would be expected to wait in the dark for their bus. I agree, the bus route could save money, but it starts to become more of a hazard for drivers and the children if there are even more kids standing on the side of the road in the dark of the morning.

    But I think that SAW hit the nail on the head. We have way too many captains in our school system.

  7. GOP says:

    The easiest and most profitable is to reduce and eliminate within the administative area. There’s too much useless and dead weight ego minded people there..

  8. palmcoaster says:

    @Anonymous. Cut the fat at the top and and the fancy all expenses paid fancy conventions and trainning attendance good for nothing and leave the kids services intact…No bus route cuts, as a matter of fact being a semi rural infrastructure with no sidewalks and curves and traffic lights in our county, kids should not be even exposed by walking one mile in these narrow unpaved grassy (often high weeds) shoulders exposed to irresponsible speedy drivers, fire ants and or snake bites, as they are forced to do now! I pay taxes for the students education not for these administrators over paid and frivolous spenditures.Look how many of these school administrators (the real fat to be trimmed) make over $60,000 a year in this economy where in a county of 95,696 residents the typical single family home income barely reaches 40,000/year ! Get into the next link go to Flagler County and see those salaries of 2010 paid that I am talking about:
    In Volusia County I pay in my Daytona property same taxes I pay to the county, and I pay to the schools just 25% more than I pay to my city or county taxes. In Flagler I pay the county almost double the taxes I pay to the city and I pay to the schools 2.7 times more than I pay to the city…something is wrong with this picture. Also you need to address your governor and legislators that that took good portion of our public school taxes, to just fund the for profit charters. Meanwhile the privatization for profit gets the taxes we pay for education and keep eroding our education system and our students safety, while walking to school in this rural infrastructure.

    • Rocco (The more famous Rocco with two c's) says:

      Let’s vote to legalize gambling in Flagler County, and use the money from the casinos to fund Education, Police/Sheriffs, and Fire departments. We would get a lot of people flocking to our Casinos; we could have the best budget in the state.

  9. HomeSchool4Me says:

    Just wondering why 2 elected school board members are “absent” and “leaving for another meeting” when there’s serious business to discuss. Anyone else pick up on that or just me? They sure were there to discuss uniforms.

  10. leann says:

    Cut the admin positions and open a vetted volunteer program for parents and seniors to take up some of the tasks that are filled by wage earners

  11. Agnese says:

    Gee what happen to all the savings these “new” bus routs where going to create, from above looks like they spent 35,000 more gallons.

  12. PJ says:

    In the transportation business you never send the same truck on the same route on the same day more than once.

    1) I would consolidate the bus routes.
    2) match bus pickup times,even if you have to change the middle/HS start times to match elementary.
    3) What this means is you max out the bus capicity you now can also include those families that are in the 1mile no fly zone for pick up to increase productivity.

    I see it all the the time transportation managers not realizing a savings by maxing capicity vs. miles and the number of stops.

    Too bad they don’t know this stuff…………….

  13. NortonSmitty says:

    You want better schools? Better teachers, more computers and less students in each classroom? Here’s a Big Idea for you:

    Quit voting for Republicans!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with you. We could also raise the taxes right through the roof. That would make all you bleeding heart democrats happy. Get rid of sports all together that should save some money. Also get rid of all the stupid kids so we only had smart ones then we could cut down on teachers.

  14. Sad Times says:

    In response to “Rocco”…. I thought that the lottery funds in Florida were supposed to be allocated to the schools….. if not, where do the lottery funds go? Also, if not… why not funnel at least half of the lottery funds to the schools? An easy fix.

  15. Binkey says:


    What administrative positions would you cut? Who would be responsible for ensuring the school complies with state and federal mandates? Who would complete the new lengthy teacher evaluations? Who would be responsible for student, parent, and staff safety? Who would handle discipline? Who would manage the facilities so they stay in good repair? Who manage the school’s schedules? There are many groups in the community thatuse the schools’ facilities. Who would make budgetary decisions?

    These administrators do more than many people think. And no, I am not a school administrator.

    Are you suggesting mixing elementary, middle school and high school kids on the same bus at the same time? What is the capacity of a school bus? I’ve seen many buses with 3 to a seat for just one school. I’m not saying your suggestions wouldn’t work, because I don’t know. I’m just saying the buses I see look pretty full.

    My suggestion would be to look at the capacity at the schools. Cluster empty rooms in the schools. Seal these empty areas off, dehumidify them to prevent mold. Keep the AC at 80 for those rooms. I would purchase some caulk and seal up the occupied rooms as best as could be done. The AC blows cold in the schools, but humidity is getting in. That humidity is what makes the rooms uncomfortable. Keep the humidity out and one could cut AC costs, which must be astronomical in these behemoth schools. I would also cut 10 percent of the lighting or more if possible. Those schools look well lit.

  16. LisaS. says:

    I hear we have empty classrooms at Rymfire. If that is true, how many? If there are enough them why not keep 6th graders in elementary school and have 9th graders go to middle school (which would then be called “junior high school”). OR have some high school honor students (traditionally the better behaved among students) take honors classes in the unused elementary classrooms. It doesn’t make any sense to lease portable buildings if we have classroom space available in the county. We should also encourage as many students as possible to dual-enroll at Daytona State College, I attended FPC’s 2011 graduation ceremony and I remember hearing that several students graduated with an Associate’s degree along with a high school diploma! We need more of that!

  17. JGA says:

    I read in a previous article that the district had close to 8.9 mill in the rainy day slush fund, that is a tad short of 1 mill per school, is there any reason why its not being dipped into??? Cuts have been made, 41 teaching jobs, employee’s losing days and very crucial and critical instruction time for students, its time to tap into the reserve, isn’t that what its there for???

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