110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Al Everson
posted Sep 13, 2013 - 8:51:16am
Several months after dire warnings about draconian budget cuts that would force teacher layoffs, the Volusia County School Board Sept. 10 adopted a 2013-14 budget that leaves academic programs intact and reduces taxes.
The new budget amounts to $766.9 million. It calls for an ad valorem tax rate of 7.358 mills, or $7.36 per $1,000 of taxable property value. That levy is almost 5 percent lower than the rate that would have generated the same revenue as last year.
Instead of cutting teachers, Volusia County public schools will add more than 100, and maybe even more if the enrollment rises further.
Also, the budget includes a 5.3-percent pay raise for teachers, and other employees of the School District may also see bigger paychecks.
That is quite an accomplishment for a team that declared at the beginning of 2013 that the Volusia School District would face a $30 million deficit and would probably have to pare its payroll and sacrifice educational programs on the altar of austerity.
So, did the School Board and administrators "cry wolf" earlier this year, when they uttered the dire forecasts?
Not at all, School Board Chairwoman Diane Smith said.
"I don't think we cried wolf. We outsourced, and the state gave us more money," she said.
The big outsourcing job was custodial work, which was given this year to the private firm ARAMARK, in a move that is supposed to save about $7 million.
The extra money from the Florida Legislature was some $16 million more than had been expected.
In addition to those two developments, the School Board repaired its budget deficit and agreed to add teachers by taking approximately $21.7 million from its savings account, leaving about $23 million for unexpected expenses.
The Volusia County School Board faced some unforeseen head winds during the winter of 2012, when the Florida Department of Education fined the district for violating the class-size amendment of the Florida Constitution. The fine took the form of reduced appropriations, but the School Board was allowed to lower the fine by coming up with a plan to reduce the student/teacher ratios.
To the surprise of educators and School Board members, the number of children in all grades, kindergarten through 12th, increased this year. The nine-day count — the district's first census of school attendance, taken Aug. 29 — put enrollment at 60,869. If the past is a reliable guide, even more students may have enrolled after Labor Day.
State and local education officials had projected the School District's enrollment would drop, perhaps settling at a total estimated countywide level of approximately 60,000 or even less.
"The projected membership decline of 600 students has not materialized in the first three weeks of school," Dr. Robert Moll, deputy superintendent for financial services, wrote in a memorandum to Superintendent Dr. Margaret Smith and the School Board. "In fact, the district has shown a growth of nearly 180 students from the same point in FY13, and nearly 700 students over the original enrollment projection."
Chairwoman Smith could not say if the district will receive additional funding from the state because of the spike in enrollment.
Moll's PowerPoint briefing on the budget, before the School Board's final vote on spending and taxation, pointed out the district will have "no reduction to instructional programs, services or activities for the 2013-14 school year by not reducing instructional positions."
The new budget funds more than 3,700 teaching positions at all grade levels.
"We see this as a thrifty budget," Jim Cameron told the School Board during the public hearing, just before the unanimous vote 5-0 to adopt the spending plan. "Over the past several months, you've had to make some difficult decisions."
Cameron, the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce's senior vice president for governmental relations, praised the board for budgeting on the conservative side.
"Stay on top of the pensions, because there are several cities out there dealing with unfunded liabilities," he cautioned.
The comments posted below are posted by readers, not by The Beacon staff. These comments express the views and opinions of the authors, and not the administrators, moderators or webmaster. The comments forum is governed by these rules. Please use the report abuse link if you find offensive comments.
Did you find this story interesting or informative? Subscribe to The West Volusia Beacon to read more stories by Al Everson, along with others from our award-winning writers. Subscribe now!