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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 22, 2012 5 years ago

White prepares lean school budget

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Sarasota County School Board Superintendent Lori White presented board members with $3.6 million in potential cuts for a 2012-13 school year budget that’s expected to include a $1.6 million shortfall and further strip the district of educational resources moving forward.

School board members praised White’s forward thinking and ability to produce a variety of cuts for them to consider before a budget is preliminarily set by April 4.

Out of the $3.6 million in potential cuts (see sidebar), $2.8 million of the cuts proposed don’t require teacher union negotiations. The board can also consider $827,966 in cuts that would require lengthy union negotiations.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Al Wiedner told the School Board that an anticipated $14 million shortfall was drastically reduced when Gov. Rick Scott chose not to eliminate $1 billion in state education funding and the Legislature did not make the severe cuts that were anticipated.

But the school district still must dip into its reserves because it’s losing $8 million in federal stimulus dollars. To avoid drastic cuts, board members previously approved using some of its $14 million reserve fund.

Board member Frank Kovach, though, warned the board it couldn’t agree to keep dipping into reserve funds forever.

“We’re not going to be able to do that year after year,” Kovach said.

Funding for Sarasota County Schools is still drastically lower than it was in the 2007-08 school year, when student allocations reached $4,080 per student at its peak. This year’s student allocation cost hovers at $3,583 per student, which brings the county’s funding level back to the 2002-03 school level year.

The $1.6 million deficit, though, can’t be pegged official until the property appraiser’s office releases its tax roll and final certification July 1. School and department budgets can be officially set at that time.

The proposed cuts, if selected, do affect teacher aide pay and make big cuts to the district’s TRIAD Alternative School.

One proposal that would save the district $750,140 calls for cutting working days for teacher aides from 196 to 186 days, which would cut their pay by 5% and reduce teacher planning days. That option would have to be vetted in lengthy union negotiations, though.

The proposal to cut out $565,600 in TRIAD school funding would cut that school’s funding resources by a third. TRIAD school gives students, who are close to expulsion because of violent acts on school grounds, one more chance to turn their scholastic careers around.

White, though, told the School Board that when the economy recovers, she would continue to create lean budgets while working to bring back more planning hours and more teachers.

“When things get better, every school will get more teachers,” White said. “But we’re not better yet.”

White explained she presented $3.6 million in cuts because the school system must continue its budget cutting even as the economy begins to recover.

“The more efficient we are, the better off we will be,” White said.

“There’s a culture change that’s occurred on how we review expenditures and I don’t see that changing now, even when things improve.”

School board member Jane Goodwin and others praised White’s variety of suggested cuts.

“This is our new normal,” Goodwin said. “By tightening our belts, we will be in better position to evaluate our school system and the new normal. We have showed our community we are good stewards and managing the future well.”

Chairwoman Caroline Zucker agreed.

“We have to continue to tighten our belts and come in lower than we anticipate every year,” Zucker said.

Recommended Budget Cuts for Fiscal Year 2012-13
Eliminate 25 portables: $36,000
Use of title funds to pay for six teacher: $422,520
Elimination of Financial Services Department position: $49,475
Elimination of two social workers and one program specialist: $281,680
Changing Safety and Security Department position: $18,259
Modify an alternative education services contract: $565,600
Reduce school transportation funds: $200,000
Eliminate certain Medicaid reimbursement funds: $80,000
Reduce materials and supplies: $225,000
Eliminate practice of increasing appropriations: $90,000
Discontinue contract with energy education company: $641,194
Eliminate five secondary schools support staff positions: $203,230
Total cost savings: $2,812,958

Budget Cuts for Fiscal Year 2012-13 that require union negotiation
Reduce teacher aide days from 196 to 186 days per year: $750,140
Eliminate board paid leave time for union business: $57,826
Eliminate Kids Under the Weather Program: $20,000
Total cost savings: $827,966

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