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  1. Florida

State declares financial emergency for Jefferson County schools

The Florida Department of Education has declared a financial emergency for Jefferson County schools, citing growing concerns over the district's shrinking fund balance.

According to the department, the three-school district just east of Tallahassee submitted documents to the state in May that showed its fund balance had fallen below 2 percent. The department asked for a financial improvement plan in early July, and received one version in late July and another in early August.

Neither plan was sufficient, education commissioner Pam Stewart told the district's superintendent in an Aug. 10 letter. She listed a string of deficiencies that, when combined, would push the district's financial condition ratio to negative 3.33 percent.

The Florida Auditor General's Office defines financial condition as "a local governmental entity's ability to meet its financial obligations and provide services that are required for the health, safety, and welfare of the community, and that its citizens desire."

Stewart wrote that Jefferson County's troubles included:

- Cuts to instructional positions without reductions to district administrative positions.
- Failure to fund $196,928 in costs associated with improving low-performing schools.
- Budgeted savings in energy ($68,972) and busing ($22,577) based on equipment not yet purchased.
- Budgeted savings of $28,540 without explanation or documentation.

"As a result, I have no choice under the law but to declare that the Jefferson County School District is in a state of financial emergency," Stewart wrote.

The State Board will have to meet to name an oversight board for the district. In the meantime, the district must now have its budget approved by the commissioner, and it is barred from selling any bonds or accepting any new debt. It also may not hire anyone without the department's approval, or incur any new financial obligations, while it develops a sustainable spending plan.

A department official said Jefferson County is the only district in Florida currently under such restrictions. Read Stewart's letter to the superintendent and board members for more details.