There's growing bipartisan support for the notion that Florida's mechanism for funding public schools isn't sufficient. In Seminole County, the longtime Republican stronghold north of Orlando, there is talk about raising property taxes for schools. The state Board of Education has suggested it would appeal to the Legislature to improve schools' fiscal future. That's why it's all the more pressing that Pinellas County School superintendent Julie Janssen reduce the district's administrative costs, long among the highest in the state. As public education weathers severe spending cuts and searches for more revenue, taxpayers need to feel confident that public money is spent efficiently and that as much of it as possible reaches the classroom.
A recent analysis by St. Petersburg Times staff writer Thomas C. Tobin found that this year Pinellas is expected to spend a larger percentage of its operating budget on general administration than other large Florida counties. Among the reasons Janssen cited is the district's longtime practice of hiring retired high-level employees. They include associate superintendent Ron Stone, whom Janssen's predecessor, Clayton Wilcox, rehired to handle contract negotiations with the district's unions. But Janssen also said the district has too many supervisors and extra drivers in the transportation department.
The result is that the Pinellas district is expected to spend 0.65 percent of its budget on administration. Hillsborough also would be wise to look through its administrative budget. It spends 0.58 percent — though that's more in line with Broward, which spends 0.56 percent.
But both Pinellas and Hillsborough spend more on administration than Duval, 0.48 percent; Miami-Dade, 0.37 percent; and Orange, 0.22 percent.
Even if Pinellas cut its $5.5-million general administrative budget in half, it would not come close to solving its budget woes. For example, the 2 percent cut the Legislature just approved means $14.8-million less is coming to Pinellas this school year than expected. And the cuts will be deeper next year unless the Republican-led Legislature agrees to raise significant new revenue.
New taxes will not be an easy sale. But cutting administrative costs in Pinellas would go a long way toward assuring taxpayers and lawmakers that new money would reach the classroom. Florida desperately needs to reconsider how it pays for public education, and school districts should do all they can to make the case.