Sunday, May 27, 2018
Education

Hernando schools to tackle state funding levels

BROOKSVILLE — If Hernando County schools received as much money per student as schools in Citrus County, the system's coffers would swell by roughly $4.7 million this year alone.

It would receive an additional $6.2 million if its funding matched that of its neighbor to the south, Pasco County. The budget would grow by $4.6 million if it was funded at the same level as Sumter County.

And if it received the state average, Hernando would see an extra $4.3 million.

For years, Hernando school officials have complained about this apparent financial disparity.

Now they want to take action.

Board members in recent weeks are breathing new life into an effort to increase funding and challenge parts of the state's complex funding formula, the Florida Education Finance Program or FEFP.

It's a huge climb — and the district is taking baby steps.

At Tuesday's workshop, board members directed the district to look into ramping up its lobbying efforts in Tallahassee for the upcoming legislative session. They were divided on whether to hire their own lobbyist or join forces with the teachers union.

"It needs to be adjusted," said School Board member John Sweeney. "It's going to take a lot of political will and political resolve up in Tallahassee."

Created in 1973 by the Florida Legislature, the Education Finance Program attempts to provide equitable funding for every student in the state. It takes a wide variety of factors into account, including the differences in local property values, varying educational program costs, the cost of living in a given county and the sparsity of its student population.

The Hernando School District routinely is among the lowest counties in Florida in total funding per student.

For the most recent 2013-14 funding calculation, Hernando received $6,590 per head. That's roughly $283 per student less than Pasco County, $216 less than Citrus County, $210 less than Sumter County. It's also $197 below the state average.

This is nothing new.

A review of per student funding since the 2000-01 school year also showed that Hernando was financed at a lower level than surrounding counties and the state average.

"Wherever you fall on the formula, you tend to remain," Sweeney said. "The top districts remain at the top, the lower districts remain at the bottom. There's no adjustment or circulation."

Hernando district officials have identified several areas in the funding formula that hurt them.

The biggest factor: property values.

Though this money comes from the county, the local tax rates are capped by the state. And the district believes that the statewide funding formula doesn't adequately compensate for Hernando's low real estate values, which limit the amount it can raise through property taxes.

Joe Vitalo, the former president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, said the formula's reliance on local property taxes increases the funding disparity between counties.

"The state is rewarding those districts that are property rich," he said. "Those districts that are needing state assistance to make up for the low property values are behind."

"We are way behind," he added.

Vitalo said it should be up to the state to make up the difference and close that gap.

Roughly 70 percent of Hernando's funding came from the state while about 30 percent came from local funding sources. Citrus was almost the opposite, with 61 percent coming from local sources and only 39 percent from the state.

The district is also hurt by its enrollment level — which is hovering around 22,000 students.

An allotment known as a sparsity supplement goes to districts with fewer than 20,000 students. The idea is to offset the higher per-student costs faced by smaller districts.

"Because we're just over the number of students, we don't qualify for sparsity, so we're in the worst possible position," said superintendent Lori Romano.

But Hernando also misses out on a cost-of-living adjustments typically received by larger, more urban districts. It's one reason Hernando's per student funding is lower than districts such as Pasco and Hillsborough.

The component of the formula effectively takes money from small districts and gives it to more urban school districts, said George Gall, the district's chief financial officer.

"It is a reverse Robin Hood philosophy and takes from the poor and gives to the rich," he wrote in a presentation to the district.

Mark Eggers, chief of school business services for the Florida Department of Education, cautioned against comparing funding between districts and said the state's funding formula has withstood the test of time — and legal challenges.

He noted that it's a contentious issue and has been looked at by the legislature in the past. While a few components have changed, it has substantially remained the same.

"It's been held up as a national model," he said.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Comments
Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

TAMPA — Somebody got into Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively’s Facebook account, copied her messages and gave them to a newspaper publisher who is a friend of her rivals on the board.The posts discussed politics and power struggl...
Published: 05/25/18
Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student who was critically injured last weekend during an accidental fall on campus shortly before she was to graduate died today, the school announced.Rebecca Ryan "Becca" Lavin-Burgher would have graduated with a ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Published: 05/24/18
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

TAMPA — The company hired by the Hillsborough County School District to fill more than 170,000 substitute teaching shifts every year is defending its record, saying it works to get to the bottom of allegations against employees, treat them fairly and...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18