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Volusia School Board chairwoman asks Pasco board to join funding fight

Volusia County School Board chairwoman Melody Johnson urges the Pasco County School Board on Tuesday to join the fight against the state's district cost differential funding formula.
Volusia County School Board chairwoman Melody Johnson urges the Pasco County School Board on Tuesday to join the fight against the state's district cost differential funding formula.
Published Aug. 2, 2017

Melody Johnson made the 220-mile round trip drive from Volusia County to Land O'Lakes on Tuesday 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. The state defines the calculation this way:

"Section 1011.62(2), F.S., requires the commissioner to annually compute District Cost Differentials (DCDs) by adding each district's Florida Price Level Index for the most recent three years and dividing the sum by three. The result is multiplied by 0.800 and divided by 100 and 0.200 is added to the product to obtain the DCD. This serves to limit the factor's adjustment to 80 percent of the index (i.e., the approximate percentage of district salary costs to total operating costs). The three-year averaging reduces the immediate impact on districts of sudden changes in the index."

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. (See the state report here, on pages 16 and 37.)

"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's 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.

Senators Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, and Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, last week renewed the request for a review of the DCD, calling it inequitable.

"I am especially troubled by the growing disparity in funding between dense urban districts and more sparse suburban and rural districts," Hutson said in a press release. "The current reality of the DCD is reduced funding for poorer districts while increasing funding for richer districts and that is just not right."

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.