Tuesday’s Budget Workshop 2014-2015

Tuesday’s Budget Workshop 2014-2015

“We can have anything we want, but we can’t have everything we want.”

Board Workshop Meeting 2-25-14At Tuesday’s board workshop the funding forecast presentation for the 2014-2015 School Budget reminded me of the saying, “We can have anything we want, but we can’t have everything we want.”

It is important to understand some important aspects of the school budget.  First the Base Student Allocation that is used to operate our schools and educate our students is largely funded by the local Citrus county tax payer.  Both the Base Student Allocation and the Required Local Effort (local property tax millage rate) are set not by the local school board but by the Florida Legislator.  This is done so all students in Florida received equitable school funding. Otherwise, counties that have higher property values would have better schools and funding than counties that do not.

The current Base Student Allocation for the 2013-2014 budget year is $3,752.30 per student. The most recent all-time high Base Student Allocation was $4,079.74 in 2007-2008.  When I first took office three years ago the Base Student Allocation was $3,630.62 per student, in 2011-2012 that went to an all-time low of $3,479.22.

This year Governor Scott has recommended $3,854.00 for the Base Student Allocation for the 2014-2015 budget. While that is better than the 2013-2014 budget, that is still down -5.7% less in Base Student Allocation then in 2007-2008, and then average reduced funding  of -8.95% less during 2007-2013.

Like our own home budgets, the school system has had to manage doing more with less funds while at the same time the cost of education has continued to increase. Those increases largely are out of the control of local school boards as they are controlled by Florida Department of Educational requirements or legislative mandates.

As a school board we have been managing these difficult times by using our savings which is better known as Unrestricted Fund Balances.  From 2004 through 2010 the school board built a savings from approximately $7.5 million to $15.5 million.  In addition to making many cost reductions we also used the savings/unrestricted fund balances to fund teachers and programs while at the same time trying to avoid negatively affecting the classroom as much as possible. This has come at a great cost to our unrestricted fund balances which have now gone from a high of $15.5 million down to $3.7 million.  Our hope and belief was that economic recovery would be in full swing by now and we would no longer need to use our built up fund balances but rather we could begin refunding them.  Unfortunately economic recovery along with increase cost of educating students has not allowed for this to happen yet. If we continue to use the district’s Unrestricted Fund Balances it means that as a school district we may likely violate our own self-imposed district policy of having, “a fund balance unreserved, which is at least 3.5% of the recurring revenues budget.” (Policy 7.10 – ‘School Budget System’) and also the state required amount in our Unrestricted Fund Balances.

The answers as to what options to consider is not easy.  As I have shared in the past Citrus has continued to be an academic leader in the state of Florida and the state of Florida continues to be a educational leader in the country. (See www.ThomasTalks.com 1/10/2014 blog post: “Florida Education 7th in Nation”)   What is challenging is helping people understand that funding public education in Florida is required by the State Constitution but is also an investment in our state and county’s future.  Each year Citrus sends approximately 700 out of 1,100 (or 65+%) graduating seniors on to a four year college or university, far above the state’s and nation’s average.

Citrus Schools knows how to educate students but the mandates and requirements are adding an unreasonable layer of cost to educating our students.  For many years businesses have told government leaders that deregulation, removing the bureaucracy and making it easier to do business makes businesses more successful.  It is time that this same approach is given to public schools.  It is time for school districts to be provided the flexibility and autonomy to operate more cost effectively and with less government intrusion. The current system has school districts being told what to teach, when to teach it, how much to teach, what to test and  how to evaluate teachers and students with the threat of penalization of any district that does not comply. For schools districts to truly reduce costs and still be effective it is time that our state leaders understand that intrusion does not only come from the federal level.

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