Salaries highest percentage of school board budget

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By Ada Lang

    Concerns were raised last week by a Levy County School Board member regarding a high percentage of the budget going to salaries but the explanation seemed to satisfy the board.
    Robert Philpot, a former Williston Ag teacher and the newest member, said that almost 70 percent for salaries seemed disproportionate to him and asked for an explanation of that line item in the 2011/2012 proposed budget.
    Superintendent Robert Hastings explained that Levy County has a total of 14 schools - including two charter schools. Sizes range from the smallest in Yankeetown (averaging 200 students) to Chiefland elementary school, with around 900, and some are located over a half hour from the next nearest school, including the one in Cedar Key.
    The schools must be fully staffed. They need administrative, custodial, as well as, teaching staff, buses, building maintenance and books but the geographical distance between them does not lend itself to sharing of resources.
    Even if there are only five or six students in a trigonometry or algebra class, a certified teacher still must be hired to teach them, and over 14 schools, that can add up. Hastings explained that he believes the county’s residents value smaller community schools, but that comes with a price.
    Adding to the salary costs is Florida’s class size amendment passed in 2002. Levy County has been forced to add 73 teachers, two guidance counselors and 14 teacher’s assistants since then. Yet, they had to do it with less revenue and fewer enrolled students.
    “There is a correlation between smaller classroom sizes and education, particularly in elementary school classes,” however, the class size mandates will only allow 18 students, when in Hastings opinion, “low is better, but up to 21” students would still be acceptable.
    However, last year, in order to not be fined by the state for exceeding the mandated classroom sizes by even 2 or 3 students, the board was required to hire four additional kindergarten teachers in several schools, for example. This added approximately $200,000 to the budget.
    As a line item, staffing costs and benefits may seem excessive, however, “our priority is in the classroom,” said Hastings.
How do Levy County teacher salaries compare with surrounding counties? Florida’s average teacher’s salary is $46,696. Out of the 67 counties, Levy is No. 36 at $43,451. Here are how other counties fare:

Rank    County    Salary
1    Monroe    $56,674
30    Citrus    $44,768
31    Gilchrist    $44,259
36    Levy    $43,451
37    Marion    $43,289
53    Alachua    $41,721
60    Dixie    $41,101
67    Gadsden    $35,628

                                        Source: teachinflorida.com