Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Duval Slicing School Budget; with State Taxes and Other Revenue Falling, Board Is Looking at Options

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Duval Slicing School Budget; with State Taxes and Other Revenue Falling, Board Is Looking at Options

Article excerpt

Byline: TIA MITCHELL

Florida's school systems are preparing for pain this budget season, but just how much remains to be seen.

Duval County school officials are mulling a three-tier system of proposed cuts, ranging from simple accounting moves to service reductions.

With estimates of the current statewide shortfall at $1.5 billion, Duval County expects to lose $18.6 million in state funding over last year. That, in addition to about $10 million in expenses that weren't initially expected this school year, and the district is struggling to carve $28.5 million out of the current $1 billion operating budget.

That makes for some hard decisions, School Board Chairwoman Vicki Drake said.

"We may have to get into some really painful things to try to keep programs and teachers in the classrooms," she said.

The Legislature has been called to a special session next month to decide how to deal with the revenue shortfall. By then, the official revenue estimates will have been updated.

Already, school systems have been warned to expect to receive 4 percent less than the Legislature approved during its regular spring session and plan accordingly.

Before the shortfall was announced, Duval County expected to receive $405 million from the Florida Education Finance Program. That is about a million dollars less than what was budgeted in 2006-07, owing mainly to an enrollment decline of nearly 2,000 students last year. However, the allocation from the state represented an increase in per-pupil spending.

School districts also receive other dollars from the state for specific initiatives, such as the Class Size Amendment or teacher merit pay. That funding may also be cut during the special session.

In addition to state money, Duval County's operating budget consists of federal funding and local property tax revenue. The school system decreased the millage it assesses property owners, but it still expects to receive $10 million more in local revenues this year due to increases in property values.

Superintendent Joseph Wise said the state has provided only estimates so far about its shortfall, brought on by a decrease in sales tax, corporate income tax and other expected revenues. The final numbers could be even worse than what has already been announced, he said.

"We've got to plan for the worst-case scenario," Wise said.

The superintendent said he has already started to implement some of the proposed cuts in the three-tier system, such as closing out dormant purchase orders, which will immediately save $2.1 million.

He has also cut scheduled teacher training during school hours, which reduces the need for substitutes to cover those shifts. The district pays $15 million annually for substitutes, but Wise hopes to cut that by $4. …

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