Large potential funding cut looms for Polk County Schools

Published 6:54 pm Monday, March 15, 2010

Polk County Schools administrators say they believe the district can get by another year at current, reduced funding levels, but theyre not so sure about the following year.
Supt. Bill Miller says thats when stimulus funds used for non-instructional support (clerical, custodians and substitutes) will run out, and hes concerned the state may ask districts to fill the budget gap.
In Polk County, that gap could be about $750,000.
Although funding for non-instructional support previously came from the state, Miller says hes seen the state transfer costs to the local level before, particularly when its low on tax revenue coming out of a recession.
“It used to be that (the state) paid our power bills, but in the last recession they dropped that and they didnt pick it back up,” says Miller. “Will (the state) send that $750,000 or not? Thats the question.”
If the state doesnt provide that money, Polk County Schools may have no choice but to turn to the county government for help, says Miller.
He says thats one of the reasons why the district is not asking the county for more funds in the upcoming year, even though its already operating at significantly reduced funding levels following last years cuts by the state. Due to the recession, the state cut allotments for teachers and instructional support personnel. Funding was completely eliminated for teacher training and technology.
Polk County Schools cut about 10 staff positions and schools received about 25 percent less in supplies.
Members of the Polk County Board of Education agreed with the budget proposal. Last week the school board approved a Local Current Expense Budget for next year of $4.75 million, which includes a $4.23 appropriation from the county. The countys appropriation, which will have to be approved by county commissioners, is unchanged from the current fiscal year.
“Were willing to take another year of no growth and no additional programs, because if in the following year we have to go begging, well have a stronger case,” said school board chairman Geoff Tennant. “We will be in dire straights one fiscal year from now if that money doesnt come. Thats the $750,000 gorilla in the room.”
Miller and Tennant plan to go to the county board meeting later this month and explain what the district is potentially facing so commissioners wont be surprised a year from now.
In the current budget for Polk County Schools, about $16.11 million comes from the state, representing about 56 percent of the districts revenue. Local funds represent about 23 percent of the districts funding, and federal funds about 12 percent.
Polk County Schools is seeing a decrease in its average daily membership, its enrollment, which is what the state uses to determine funding. The state is forecasting an enrollment of about 2,427 students in Polk County in 2010-2011, however that should not affect funding because it is less than a two percent decrease.
Supt. Miller said other districts also are seeing declines as some people move to other areas in search of jobs due to the recession.
“If its over a two percent drop (in enrollment), we could get a drop in state funding,” says Miller. “That depends on the economy, but I dont think we will be that low.”
For the year ahead, Supt. Miller says he believes the state will maintain the same funding levels it had this year. If the county government does the same, he says the district will face a very tight budget again, but probably can avoid cutting programs.
“We will look at saving everywhere we can again,” said Miller. “If any teachers leave or retire, we will examine if theres any way we can get it done with less cost, but pretty much were not at the point of having to cut programs.”

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