ST. LUCIE COUNTY — The School Board is expected to discuss — and perhaps vote on — some tough budget-cut choices at Tuesday’s meeting.
To balance next year’s budget, the district has provided board members with a menu of options that includes closing two schools, cutting employees’ pay, eliminating positions such as librarians and privatizing custodial services, among other things.
“The deliberations of the board on the 19th will be really crucial because there’s this year’s issue and then there’s succeeding years’ issues,” Schools Superintendent Michael Lannon said. “There isn’t a single action that’s going to solve all the issues and they are all complex and interwoven, interrelated and it’s a moving target.”
Board Chairwoman Debbie Hawley said the district needs long-term solutions and all budget decisions might not be made immediately.
“We can’t keep doing this year after year,” she said. “My intention is that we get to where we need to be for July 1, but we’re going to keep going on this budget process until we are not in the crisis mode every year.”
By state law, the School Board must have a balanced budget for the 2013-14 school year by July 1.
Faced with a $15 million shortfall, the district has proposed a menu of budget cut options that total about $27.9 million. A recommended budget cut plan was not included in Tuesday’s agenda, but the agenda notes the board will have “discussion decisions on 2013-14 budget.”
The board is expected to vote on two student assignment proposals that are on the menu, however. The proposals would assign new high school students, including incoming ninth-graders, based on their residential zip code and transition Village Green Environmental Studies School to a school of choice for new elementary students residing in the blue choice zone.
The recommendations do not affect students currently in high school or at Village Green.
The agenda notes “there is no financial impact at this time,” and district officials have said the still-unestimated cost savings would be realized in four years.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why does the district have to cut $15 million?
A: For the past five years, revenue has dwindled due to state funding cuts, the 2008 recession and declining property values.
Q: Why can’t the School Board raise property taxes?
A: School boards cannot levy a higher tax rate than what the Florida Legislature sets.
Q: What about a referendum?
A: Voters could approve an additional millage for operations, but they may never be asked. The school district in January asked the County Commission to postpone its vote to call for a special election on March 19, citing insufficient time.
Q: Why can’t the district increase the county sales tax?
A: State law allows additional sales taxes only for building schools and other capital outlay projects.
Q: What has the district already done to save money?
A: Since 2008, the district has reduced utility costs by $3.4 million or 28.8 percent annually and transportation costs by $2.5 million annually through community bus stops for magnet school students. In 2009, the district cut $30 million; it closed two schools (Port St. Lucie Elementary and Southbend K-8), eliminated more than 300 jobs and scaled back sports programs. In 2010, it cut $4 million annually by changing high schools from seven-period days to a block schedule.
Q: Why doesn’t the district cut administrative positions?
A: Since 2008, five administrative positions have been eliminated, a 14 percent reduction. St. Lucie’s administrative cost per student is the state’s sixth lowest, according to the most recent Florida Department of Education report.
Source: St. Lucie County School District, staff research
BUDGET CUT OPTIONS
SCHOOL/PROGRAM CHANGES: $4.61 million
Cut athletics: $1 million
Transition to block schedule at 4 middle schools: $1 million
Close Garden City Early Learning Academy and Fort Pierce Magnet School of the Arts K-8: $1.61 million
Change student assignments: $1 million
Assignment changes include:
Based on ZIP code
Minimal or no district transportation to remote areas
Change either Fairlawn or Frances K. Sweet from magnet to regular elementary
Transition Village Green Elementary to choice school
Transition Dan McCarty School from grades 3-8 to middle school for grades 6-8
PERSONNEL: $7.2 million
Eliminate media specialists/library clerks: $3 million
Reduce school resource teachers (physical education, music, art, technology): $1.3 million
Reduce student services (social workers/psychology services): $1.4 million
Reduce substitute teachers: $1.5 million
EMPLOYEES: $8.85 million
Cut all employee salaries by 1 percent: $1.8 million
Two-day furlough for all administrators: $100,000
Eliminate one paid holiday for all employees: $1 million
Reduce supplements: $250,000
Restructure employee health insurance program: $4.7 million
Four-day workweek for district maintenance staff: $1 million
OTHER: $2.37 million
Privatize custodial services: $2 million