Polk County Schools facing more budget cuts

Published 2:23 pm Monday, June 1, 2009

Recent projections have put the state budget deficit at about $3.2 billion for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, and at about $4.6 billion for next fiscal year.

&dquo;I think the governor is doing everything she can to protect education, but you can only do so much,&dquo; says Miller. &dquo;We&squo;ll do everything we can to keep teachers in the classrooms with students and try to cut around the edges.&dquo;

So far that&squo;s meant about $120,000 to $135,000 cut at the district&squo;s central office. An assistant finance position and a testing and accountability position were cut, and another position was reduced to more part time.

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The district also saved about $22,000 by redoing its audit contract and it plans to save about $11,000 by eliminating a health fair next year.

Miller says the district probably will have to find another $500,000 to $750,000 in savings. Each school already is planning cuts, but the goal is to minimize the impact on the classroom and the community, says Miller.

&dquo;If you lay off a lot of people all you do is make the recession worse in your local economy,&dquo; he says.

The school system expects to save some money by not replacing retiring teachers in the new fiscal year. Every position that&squo;s left unfilled saves about $55,000, says Miller.

&dquo;It certainly means there&squo;s going to be less staff next year. I don&squo;t think there&squo;s any question about it,&dquo; says Miller.

Some additional savings may be found by reducing some support staff. The district already has cut a half position in both the bus garage and the maintenance department.

The district may also look to save money by holding off on some supply purchases and leaving some technology needs unmet.

The school system gained some relief when county commissioners agreed to let the district use about $200,000 in capital reserves to cover operating expenses. That wil leave about $112,000 in capital funds for building needs next year, which would include repairs &dquo;if something breaks,&dquo; notes Miller.

County commissioners also are seeking approval to use state lottery funding to pay a school building loan.

The budget situation would be far worse and more positions would be at risk, says Miller, if not for lower gas prices. Last fiscal year the school district struggled to make ends meet as gas prices soared well above the rate the state uses to compensate districts.

&dquo;If (gas prices) were still up where they were before we would be in big trouble now,&dquo; says Miller.

The district already has faced budget cuts in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The state previously required Polk County Schools to send back about $100,000 and recently took another $70,000 or $27.75 per student. That move was expected to provide the state $41 million from the state&squo;s 115 districts.

The state also announced recently a 0.5 percent cut in salaries for school employees, a move expected to save $65 million for the state. Employees can receive 10 hours of paid leave in return.

Polk County&squo;s Summer School, which grew in recent years to include a broad range of enrichment programs for hundreds of students, has also been hit by funding cuts after the district was unable to obtain a new grant. Summer school this year will be limited to 12 days for students not performing at grade level.

School districts hope to learn more about actual funding cuts in the near future, but Miller says it likely won&squo;t be until July, after the next fiscal year has already begun. That makes budget planning and preparation for next school year even more difficult.

&dquo;It&squo;s tough. It&squo;s been tough on everybody. It causes a lot of angst,&dquo; says Miller.