School board wrestles with budget

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By Ada Lang

Levy schools Finance Director Bob Clemmons says dealing with the 2011-12 budget is a bit “like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and looking down.” 

Clemmons, in a presentation on Tuesday to the Levy County School Board, outlined the factors that have made this year’s budget the most precarious one he has handled. 

• Declining property tax and state revenues combined with the unfunded mandate of the 2002 Class Size Reduction Amendment to the Florida Constitution is forcing the school board to make steep cuts. 

• Levy County residents' rejection of a proposal to raise the capital outlay millage rate from 1.5 to 1.75 mills. The vote cost the schools $800,000 in anticipated money with half coming from the state. 

• Declining enrollments add to the pinch because the schools receive funding based on full-time enrollment. From the 2004-05 to 2010-11 school year, enrollment has  declinedfrom 6,137 to 5,599 students. While the drop has slowed, there is no sign that will go up in the near future.

•  State capital outlay money for K-12 education has gone from over $700,000 in 2008 to zero for the next budget year. Of the $77 million that the Legislature appropriated  for construction, charter schools will get $55 million and universities will receive the $22 million balance.

While new construction is out of the question School Superintendent Bob Hastings said he wonders how he is going to patch roofs, fix air conditioning systems or get grass mowed with zero dollars. Some classrooms are 80 years old and some gymnasiums around Levy County were built 60 years ago. 

Hastings theorized that enrollment is declining because families are moving due to lack of job opportunities in the county and because more students are attending charter, private and virtual schools.

Board Member Rick Turner conceded that the board failed to adequately educate the public on the facts and the importance of approving the proposed millage on the November 2010 ballot. Consequently, only 37 percent voted for raising the rate.

Some of the ways the board plans to save money is to eliminate “courtesy pickups” of students living within two miles of any school.  Board Member Paige Brookins said, “They can walk.  It’s healthy to walk.” 

The board will not be replacing as many school buses as policy dictates — 10 percent of the fleet or eight buses annually. Instead, they will only purchase five.  

Hastings showed his sense of humor is still intact  despite the difficult situation, saying, “We need to learn from countries like Japan where there are no substitute teachers or custodians.”  There, students clean their own schools. “It doesn’t take long to clean a school” when a few hundred kids are working on it, he said.