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Special session unlikely for school security funding

Posted: 12:24 PM, May 23, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-23 21:18:11Z

Florida Governor Rick Scott said Wednesday that there will likely not be a special session concerning funding for school security.

Some Florida school districts had complained that there isn't enough money in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act to cover all of its mandates.

According to Governor Scott, school districts are sitting on $2 billion in cash. He also said that he plans to give schools whatever is left from $67 million set aside for security training.

The Florida Department of State polled lawmakers to see if they wanted a special session. In order to have one, 70 out of 117 must request it... or roughly 60%. 

So far 52 have said no, 36 yes.

The St. Lucie School District had this response:

These are financially challenging times for all school districts, and we believe the statement is not an accurate reflection of what school districts are facing. When we compare ourselves to the nation, Florida ranks 44th in revenues and spending at $10,126 in combined federal, state and local sources. The US average is $13,814.  We rank 48th in the level of state funds.

The Palm Beach County School District issued this response:

Florida School Boards are required by law to adopt a balanced budget each year and maintain adequate reserves.  

Florida Statute 1011.51 requires district school boards to "maintain a general fund ending fund balance that is sufficient to address normal contingencies."  Further, this statute requires superintendents to notify the Commissioner of Education if fund balance is projected to drop below 3% and if a school district falls below 2% the Commissioner may appoint a financial emergency board to manage the district's finances if deemed necessary.  As such, 3% represents the bare minimum level of general fund balance.    

The Government Finance Officers Association recommends, at a minimum, that general-purpose governments, regardless of size, maintain unrestricted budgetary fund balance in their general fund of no less than two months of regular general fund operating revenues or regular general fund operating expenditures. For the School District of Palm Beach County, two months of general fund expenditures equates to $274 million. With Florida ranked 42nd in the U.S. in per-student funding, SDPBC has been unable to reach the GFOA's recommended level of reserves. 

The School District of Palm Beach County's reserve of $110.2 million as of 6/30/17 represented 7.01% of general fund revenue, below the state average of 9.42%.

The district reserves reported by FDOE include the School Board's Emergency Contingency Reserve of $52 million which represents 3% of the district's operating budget as required by Board Policy 2.55.  The remaining $58.2 million in reserves are assigned to various components of the budget and balances may carry forward from one fiscal year to the next.  To provide some context, the District's payroll for over 25,000 full and part-time employees averages $55 million every two weeks, including taxes and benefit contributions.

It would be financially irresponsible to suggest school districts should tap their reserves to pay for recurring costs, such as school police officer salaries and benefits.  These reserves are equivalent to emergency savings accounts that districts have accumulated over a long period of time, only to be used in case of an emergency.  For example, our School Board last utilized their contingency reserve to help recover from Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances.  

"Only in Florida would the Governor denounce local school boards for prudent financial management.  This is the same Governor who has been adamant about bolstering state budget reserves during his tenure and achieved $5.4 billion in unassigned fund balance, which represents 14.9% of the state's annual general revenue." - Mike Burke, CFO of the School District of Palm Beach County