Planning for Next School Year

Citrus County School District Ad Valorem Tax Budget 2004-2014Planning for Next School Year

These days, when as School Board Members we are not at Award Ceremonies, Retirement Parties, graduations, or end of the year events– school administrators, district staff, the executive team and the school board have been deep in budget and staff planning for next school year.

Many of you are aware of the recommendations we have been looking at and I am grateful to those of you that have been involved in contacting me, individually and collectively, with your feedback, concerns, suggestions, and insight.

One of the recent recommendations we have been looking at, is to change the Media Specialist Position from an Instructional Media Specialist to a Support Media Aide Paraprofessional at the Elementary and Middle Schools Media Centers.

I felt it important to take a moment to explain what has brought us to the point of needing to consider these and other recommendations to reduce costs.

This recent recommendation was made on the tail of the recent adjournment of the 2013 Legislative Session and the passing of the State Budget. On those last days, in the very last hours, several last minute funding reductions to education were passed and to make matters worse, new cost increases were added. For Citrus County Schools, one of those new cost increases was a new Florida Retirement System Employer obligation rate, which is an additional $1.3 million annual increase. That was just one of several budget items impacting costs that the District just learned of a week ago.

In January 2013 we anticipated approximately $4 million less in funding for the 2013-2014 General Fund budget. These latest additional costs will likely increase that projection to over $6 million less in funding to the General Fund budget. The Legislature passed $4 million in new educational funding to come to Citrus County Schools; of that $4 million, nearly 90% is required to go to specific items, such as instructional salary increases, school security, and casualty insurance costs. This means that the anticipated $4 million in new educational funding will fall short by approximately $2 million. In January 2013 it was the board’s hope to make up the $4 million in lost funding by making approximately $2 million in cuts, but had hoped with the then legislative session beginning that new funding might have reduced how much we would need to cut. At the same time we have needed to be careful to not continue to use the Reserve Funds to balance our budget as we are currently below the required amount of 3.5% or approximately $4.2million. Keep in mind over the last several years, in order to maintain the current level of school programs and services in our district, we had previously used up approximately $9 million in reserved funds.

While there have been numerous conversations over the past two years, at board meetings and workshops, regarding the possibility of cutting positions like the media specialist positions, Physical Education, curriculum/testing coordinator teachers, and others. These recommendations were not something the board had hoped to have to address during the current budget cycle.

In the ongoing preparations for the ever growing cost of education, with declining resources, last year a District Budget Committee was assembled to look into budget reduction recommendations. This committee was made up of a cross section of representatives from all of the various Citrus County School Departments as well as a representative from each of the Citrus County Schools. The committee used a survey to rank the impact of various programs at our schools. Changing the media specialist position from instructional to support was a part of the survey as well. (click here to see the 2012-2013 presentation and survey) Few of the suggested Budget Committee cuts were approved by the School Board for the 2012-2013 General Fund Budget. The Board’s goal has been to maintain as many of our schools’ programs and curriculum as possible. As a result the Board felt, in order to do that, it had to use the Reserved Fund Balance (savings) to maintain these programs. What we recognized, and stated then, was that we could no longer continue to use the reserved funds because we had limited reserved funds remaining that we could use.

In January 2013 the District anticipated that there would be $4 million less in funding to the General Fund. Consequently the 2013-2014 budget preparations began by first presenting the Board with the options that the Budget Committee had given us months earlier. Those options included changing the Media Specialist positions from Instructional to Support, Physical Education, curriculum/testing coordinator teachers, and others. At that time the Board again did not feel that they wanted to make the recommendation to approve those cuts that would take place in those direct student areas. The School Board then asked the District to look for alternative cuts. The School Board asked the District to look for cuts that would produce the largest reductions in costs while, at the same time, affecting the fewest number of students.

During this conversation with the Executive Staff regarding cutting costs that would affect the fewest amount of students, I brought up my concern about the increasing operating costs of operating The Renaissance Center, our school in the Lecanto complex that serves as an alternative to student expulsion. This is a valuable program to our school district with outstanding dedicated teachers and staff who are committed to turning around at risk students, and giving them an opportunity to turn their life around and be successful. My concern is that Renaissance accommodates approximately 90 students at a cost of $1.6 million annually or about $18,000 +/- per student, compared with approximately $5,500 per student at a traditional school. At our most recent Board Workshop meeting, on April 23rd, a presentation was given regarding the operation, costs and cost reducing options for The Renaissance Center. One option was to reduce costs, of about $250,000, by reducing staff at Renaissance but largely maintain the school as is, another options is to move the program to the high schools and create “mini Renaissance” at a savings of about $905,000. At that meeting there were administrative representatives from the middle and high school levels in attendance. I asked the administrative representatives if they were prepared to lose programs or other instructional staff at the school level like media specialist in order to keep The Renaissance Center. The principal said, while they would not like to have to make that choice, if they had to choose between losing either Media Specialist or the Renaissance School, then they would lean towards keeping Renaissance. They explained that by speaking about how disruptive students do not make for a positive learning environment for the regular classroom students.

Last week, after the District received the news about the now $6 million shortfall, the Executive Administrative Team met with Citrus County School Principals as soon as possible to inform them of these new, unforeseen budget challenges and to ask for their insight and assistance in how to go about making these cuts. High school Principal’s had previously agreed to a teaching staff that included reducing staff by several instructional positions at each school while maintaining the block schedule. The elementary and middle school principals were asked to perform the terrible task of recommending how they would reduce costs by reducing an Instructional positions at each of their schools.  Their options were one less P.E. teacher, no Curriculum/Testing Coordinator Teacher, or Media Specialist. The principals’ consensus was that, given all of the complexities, cutting the Media Specialist, was the lesser of these terrible choices.

Unfortunately, Citrus Schools is not alone in making these very difficult choices. School districts, all over the state of Florida and throughout the nation, have to reevaluate the structure and programs at their schools. Last week Pasco County Schools also cut all media specialist positions. (see:

These are some of the toughest challenges we face as board members and it is why we have spent a great deal of time and research to get information from all levels in our schools before we make these decisions.  As one principal put it at our May 14th board meeting, “at this point any cuts you make will have an effect on our students, so we have to recommend the ones that will have the least negative effect.”

I personally value each of our staff whether instructional, non-instructional, support, administrative, and all the other departments. We have dedicated people who are not just staff members but are often a parent or a grandparent to many of our students. These people work so hard to help make our students successful every day.

If any of you have specific questions as we continue to make these decisions, please feel free to contact me.

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