Palm Beach County School District preparing for 'big unknown'

Going over 'fiscal cliff' could bring budget cuts

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Some within the Palm Beach County School District call it the 'big unknown'. With budget planning for the next year already under way, the looming 'fiscal cliff' is raising big questions about potentially big cuts for the district.

Balancing a nearly $2.4 billion budget is never an easy task. It becomes even more difficult when the approaching 'fiscal cliff' has the district on some very uncertain financial footing. Budget-building for the next fiscal year seems to be partially hinging on the fast-approaching 'fiscal cliff'. "There is a big unknown hanging over our head," said Mike Burke, Chief Operating Officer for the school district.

Burke is tasked figuring out how many state and federal dollars the district will have to work with during each fiscal cycle. Federal lawmakers in Washington, D.C., may not be helping him solve what is already a complex equation. "The fiscal cliff, the sequestration of funds, is basically an across-the-board budget cut," he said.

If lawmakers take the nation over the 'fiscal cliff', Burke says the district could see a $10 million cut in federal grant funding. According to Burke, it would mostly affect Title 1 programs for low-income schools as well as the district's Exceptional Student Education program. The quick fix, Burke says, would be dipping into crucial general fund dollars or to curtail the program and cut back on services.

Even with the 'big unknowns' in his financial planning, Burke says the district can always be searching for ways to better spend every dollar. "I'd say there's always room for improvement and we go through that each year with our budget process," he said.

While federal lawmakers have the option of doing something soon, the state legislature will not have its financial figures in order until spring. That could mean that the impact on the school district's budget would be felt at the start of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

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