Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Board Weighs Fallout of Education Bill

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Board Weighs Fallout of Education Bill

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Smith Amos

During her first Duval County Schools budget meeting, interim Superintendent Patricia Willis on Monday presented millions of dollars in possible cuts to district programs and services for the coming school year.

She was using early projections of the proposed state budget and the predicted effects of a controversial, catch-all education bill still awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature.

The budget and changed laws could erase at least $19 million in school programs and strategies, including reductions for Teach for America teacher recruitment and training and some cash incentives for teachers at hard-to-staff schools.

But Willis soon dialed down the doom by proposing the board add back some programs if districts get an additional $100 per student from the state.

Scott negotiated with state legislative leaders last week to add $210 million more in per-pupil education funding. That means a $16 million bump for Duval's $1.7 billion annual budget.

Without that money, Willis said, many districts would have suffered flat or declining funding. Willis presented several scenarios to the school board, including a worst-case recommendation that Duval schools dip into its reserves, called its fund balance.

"The hardest recommendation I had to make was that they look at the fund balance," Willis said after the meeting. "To go into our fund balance is concerning, but I had to bring it to the board because there are no additional funds."

Several board members rejected that option. Duval keeps 5 percent of its budget in reserve in case of emergency, though the state mandates districts keep a 3 percent cushion.

Other big hits to Duval's budget still lie in the education bill.

For instance, the bill changes how Title I funds are spent. …

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