Pasco-Hernando Community College trustees have put the heat on their two feeder school districts by adopting a policy on dual enrollment fees that district officials are trying to eliminate.
Without much fanfare, the PHCC board approved a plan last month that would have the Pasco and Hernando school systems pay $37.73 per semester for every student taking college credit-bearing courses taught at district schools by district teachers.
School leaders balked at the idea when it first came up in August. They remain opposed two months later, saying they can't understand the notion of paying PHCC administrative fees for district work. They have not opposed the fees for courses taken at the college or for those taught by college instructors.
"Are we happy that we have to pay for something that is mandated to us that we don't have funding for? That we haven't ever had to pay for in the past? No," Hernando superintendent Lori Romano said. "But it's mandated, so we're going to go forward and be good partners and pay for it and hope that in the legislative (session) it will change."
Pasco officials are still talking about alternatives.
"We're still crunching the numbers," Pasco assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said Tuesday, a day after meeting with PHCC leaders on the subject.
Gadd said he suggested considering a method similar to the one St. Petersburg College and the Pinellas school system devised to cope with new state dual enrollment funding rules. The two Pinellas entities used a "full cost model" to determine how much both the college and district spent on the program, and then agreed to a cost shifting plan that held both essentially harmless financially.
PHCC leaders have repeatedly questioned whether the Pinellas model meets the new law, which lawmakers have signaled they might change in the coming legislative session.
"PHCC seemed very concerned about the potential for an audit and not meeting the requirements of the statute," Gadd said.
College vice president Burt Harres said his administration received plenty of financial data from the school districts and incorporated it into the recommendation that went to trustees. He noted that the administrative fees for each district and the college differed, and there was no way to account for a full offset.
"We think we've done our due diligence, and we've worked with both school systems," Harres said. "It's in the hands of the school districts to take action."
Colleges and school districts across Florida found themselves in this situation after lawmakers agreed to college presidents' requests to ease the cost burden of dual enrollment, which has risen substantially in the past five years. Districts would pay tuition and fees for the program for the first time, out of their per-student funding.
The decision, which came late in the 2013 legislative session, caught school boards off-guard. They began projecting large deficits as a result and complained loudly about the funding shift.
Many regions found palatable resolutions. Some started limiting dual enrollment options.
Pasco and Hernando, where leaders convened in February to discuss how to deal with the rising costs, struggled to find a compromise, while proclaiming a desire to work together for the good of the students.
Students have not felt the sting of the disagreement, as none who were qualified have been turned away from the program. Harres predicted a positive outcome.
"We have to have an agreement," he said. "We have a legislative mandate."
Staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.