Elia: Budget cuts "all but certain" in Hillsborough
TAMPA -- Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has resumed her spring ritual of posting regular updates on the budget situation in Tallahassee and what it all means for the Hillsborough County schools. And while her messages started out on a fairly optimistic note, that is rapidly changing as the Legislature begins its work today.
"We do not expect the introduction of any proposals to raise significant new revenue," she wrote Monday. "The end result is that budget cuts appear all but certain; it’s just a question of how deep they will be."
Under Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposal, Hillsborough is looking at a hole of more than $100 million in its $1.7 billion operating budget. A big chunk of that was filled for two years by the federal stimulus, averting mass layoffs in Tampa Bay area school districts. But the economy and tax revenues aren't even close to their pre-recession levels, and the stimulus money runs out this summer.
Hillsborough officials have tried to put a brave face on that reality, saying they believe legislators will keep their promises to pick up most of the slack. But the fact is that no one relied on the federal stimulus more than the Florida Legislature, which used it to prop up its general fund.
"Over the last two years we have known this was coming and we planned for it," Elia said.
And even if Hillsborough is shielded by its Gates reforms from many of the changes in the tenure reform bills under discussion today, there are plenty of other potential changes that could affect district teachers.
A Scott proposal for public employees to contribute 5 percent of the cost of their retirement and pension funds "would have the same effect as a pay cut to our employees," Elia said. And there's talk of ending the state's deferred retirement program while grandfathering in current employees.
"A word of caution to DROP-eligible employees: If these changes do take place, we anticipate they will not happen until the start of the fiscal year at the earliest," Elia wrote. "It would be unwise to make career decisions based on the possibility of legislative action."
She promised that the district, as well as the teachers' and employees' unions, would look out for students and employees.
"As I talk to people in our school district and around the state, I recognize that there is a great deal of unease about the upcoming legislative session," Elia said. "I share that sense of unease."