110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Administrators say tough times likely to continue
By Al Everson
posted Sep 12, 2011 - 4:37:11pm
While hoping for the best, Volusia County Schools Superintendent Margaret Smith has nevertheless advised the School Board to prepare for the worst.
"We can expect a tougher year next year," Smith said at the School Board's recent budget workshop.
School district administrators say Gov. Rick Scott has ordered school districts and other state agencies to prepare plans to reduce spending by another 10 percent for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
"It's very clear ... the probability of another recession has increased," Smith said.
How long will the economic slump last?
"Now we're hearing it could be 2015," she cautioned.
Earlier reports about economic woes easing now appear to be premature, Smith warned.
"We're all very aware of the world economic climate," she continued. "We are all very aware of the Standard and Poor's economic downgrade."
The global conditions ripple down to the local levels, she told the School Board, and the local economy is already in trouble.
"In Volusia County, the property values have dropped by $3 billion," Smith said. "Our enrollment is down. Foreclosures are continuing."
A prolonging of the recession is what the Federal Reserve System's Open Market Committee sees ahead.
"[E]conomic growth so far this year has been considerably slower than the Committee had expected," according to an Aug. 9 report from the Federal Reserve. "Indicators suggest a deterioration in overall labor market conditions in recent months, and the unemployment rate has moved up."
Unemployment hurts consumer travel and spending, Smith pointed out.
"With the economy the way it is, and with Florida so dependent on tourism and the sales taxes, we have to watch that," she said.
Over the past four years, the local school system has sustained $92 million in state funding cuts, as the long-running recession deepened and tax collections diminished. In response to revenue shortfalls, the Florida Legislature has pared appropriations for education.
The congressional deal that produced a $2 trillion increase in the federal government's debt ceiling, in exchange for a "super committee" with the power to mandate cuts in federal spending to reduce deficits, may spell trouble for state and local governments, according to Smith. The result, she said, may be "less money coming to the states" from Washington.
"States are really growing very anxious the growing debt crisis," she said. "States have nowhere to hide."
For the past two years, the Volusia School District has avoided laying off teachers by using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the "stimulus bill." The district received $19.5 million to retain teachers, and Assistant Superintendent for Financial Services Dr. Robert Moll credited the ARRA funds with saving 300 jobs.
"We used these funds in the classroom," he said.
The ARRA funds have been exhausted.
"The primary budget goal that we have had is keeping jobs," Smith said. "By keeping those positions, it does keep quality education in our School District."
Smith said the central administration has reduced its expenses by another 4 percent, including a decrease in personnel through attrition.
"We have had to make additional cuts this year," she said.
The Volusia School District's 2011-12 budget allocates almost $5 million for the central administration, and no salary increases.
Teachers have protested the plan to freeze wages for another year, especially since the Florida Legislature has mandated that all state employees — including teachers — contribute 3 percent to their retirement, reducing their take-home pay.
"Teachers are no different from anyone else. They're struggling. They're struggling to make ends meet," Volusia Teachers Organization President Andrew Spar told the School Board. "I think people often forget that teachers are no different. They are the people in our churches. They are the people in our synagogues. They are the people in our supermarkets."
The School Board is poised to adopt a 2011-12 budget totaling almost $797 million, a grand sum that is about $82 million less than the Volusia School District's budget for the fiscal year before.
The School Board planned a public hearing on its new budget and property tax at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, at the DeLand Administrative Complex, 200 N. Clara Ave., with a binding vote on the proposed spending and 8.06-mill ad valorem tax rate to follow the hearing.
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