Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

Budget deficit brings most extended-day programs to an end

The Pasco County School District will not offer any extended-day programs this year, except for the added hour of reading instruction mandated by state law for elementary schools with low reading test scores.

District finance officials recommended eliminating the academic programs, which cost about $600,000, as a way to balance the 2017-18 budget. Chief finance officer Olga Swinson explained that, even after lawmakers increased the K-12 budget to an added $100 per student, it wasn't enough to eliminate all gaps between anticipated revenue and expenses.

"We did have a deficit of $750,000," Swinson told the School Board recently.

To create a small surplus of $671,049, the administration proposed cutting the extended-day programs, along with a handful of district office jobs and some leadership supplemental pay. The board has tentatively approved the changes, after inquiring about the extra reading hour.

Four elementary schools remain on the state's Lowest 300 list — Pasco, Cox, Fox Hollow and West Zephyrhills — and they will continue to offer the service to children in fourth and fifth grades. Fox Hollow will add kindergarten through third grade to the mix, using a federal grant to cover the cost.

Representatives from the district and United School Employees of Pasco negotiated some of the terms for teachers in those schools during brief talks last week. Those included pay for the work and conditions for continued employment at the schools.

The board is scheduled to take final budget action Sept. 12, after a 6 p.m. public hearing.

FUNDING FORMULA: Melody Johnson made the round trip drive from Volusia County to Land O'Lakes last week because the message she had for the Pasco County School Board was just that important to her.

"Over 80 percent of the districts are being stolen from through DCD (district cost differential)," the Volusia School Board chairwoman told her Pasco counterparts, whom she asked to join the fight against the state funding model. "All we are asking is that every dollar collected come back to our counties."

The DCD, which Johnson deemed "educational welfare," allows the state to adjust the amount of tax revenue districts receive based on a three-year rolling average of the annual Florida Price Level Index. Areas where it costs more to live get a higher amount than those where it costs less.

In 2016-17, the rural Madison County district got 92.47 cents per every tax dollar, while urban Miami-Dade got $1.0201. Locally, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties essentially broke even at $1.007, while Pasco and Hernando came in low, at 98.74 cents and 97.17 cents, respectively.

"Fifty-five counties in Florida are negatively impacted," Johnson said, adding that Pasco schools have lost $53 million to the formula since its 2003 incarnation. "Twelve are receiving the money."

She has launched a social media tag — #dcdtheft — to highlight the issue, and has traveled the state to encourage all affected boards to pressure lawmakers and seek community support for a change. Some lawmakers proposed studying the model with an eye toward revision in their spring session, but got nowhere.

Sens. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, and Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, have again asked for a review of the DCD, calling it inequitable. Senate President Joe Negron has approved that request.

Pasco School Board Chairman Allen Altman thanked Johnson for the presentation, and asked superintendent Kurt Browning to examine the details before deciding whether to join the effort.

SCHOOL SCORECARDS: The Pasco School District will end its brief foray into issuing scorecards on school performance, superintendent Kurt Browning said.

The district launched the reports, along with its "success plan," two years ago. They were intended to demonstrate student performance in select academic and other areas, showing gains or losses to hold the campuses accountable to the public.

Twelve schools began the pilot project, with more slated to join.

But no one really looked at the scorecards, Browning explained. The district was collecting the data in other ways, he said, and principals were well aware of the information without the added paperwork.

"You're going to see the district scorecard. It will have the same information," Browning said. "Just not the school-level reports."

In the most recent success plan update, district officials touted improvements in several areas, including student academics, human resources, finances and community relations.

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