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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senators say their schools budget is not so bad



The Senate's education budget draft lists a 6.26 percent cut to per-student funding. But it's really a 2.28 percent cut, members of an education budget subcommittee said Thursday.

That's because the higher number is inflated by the drop in state funding schools will see if public employees, as expected, are required to contribute to their pensions. The change could amount to $678 million less for schools across Florida.

But school districts will also be spending proportionally less to fund employee pensions. So the whole thing's a wash, said Sen. David Simmons, the Altamonte Springs Republican who heads the committee. "It essentially provides for level funding," Simmons said.

Well, not exactly. A 2.28 percent cut is still a cut. But it's a less scary number than the 10 percent cut proposed by Gov. Rick Scott and the nearly 7 percent being considered in the House.

The proposal, however, will be difficult to explain to the public, said Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican, who said he feared headlines mentioning a 6.26 percent cut. "We're going to get whipsawed on this sucker," Wise said.

Later, Simmons defended the proposal before a group of students and teachers from G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School in West Miami-Dade. Michael Jon Littman, a government teacher, said pension contributions by him and his wife -- also a teacher -- would amount to a

"We can barely pay our bills now," he said. "I drive a car that is older than my students."

Simmons said some of the budget moves were an alternative to eliminating jobs. "I do not expect any layoffs or anything like that," he said.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 3:44pm]


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