School district explains budget cuts

The Indian River School District (IRSD) enacted a series of cost-cutting measures in March and April, in preparation for anticipated budget shortfalls in fiscal 2006, according to an April 29 press release.

Among those measures, a reduction in the number of locally-funded teaching positions, a reduction in school discipline personnel, the discontinuation of two property tax discounts, the elimination of two administrative positions and the discontinuation of four other locally-funded positions.

In the press release, district Superintendent Lois Hobbs said many factors had contributed to the budget crisis. However, the next paragraph begins, “The main reason for the deficit is a series of state budget reductions that have depleted approximately $1.5 million from the district’s budget during the past two years.”

The district admits some of that funding was restored for fiscal 2006, but “the state drastically reduced the district’s energy and operating budget to its lowest level since 1991,” the press release continues.

District Finance Director Patrick Miller elaborated. “Division II” funding comprises energy, and instructional materials and supplies.

Of that lump sum, Miller said energy made up $1,716 per unit last year (nearing the 1991 low of $1,416). It had been as high as $1,786 in the mid-1980s, but had never returned to those levels following state budget crises in the early 1990s, he said.

In addition, Miller anticipated an overall Division II decrease from $4,963 per unit to $4,207 this year.

At the state budget office, Deputy Budget Director Bert Scoglietti said Miller was half right.

However, Scoglietti said the energy component would actually increase to $1,750 — it was the “All Other Costs” (AOC) portion that was proposed to decrease to $2,457.

And even that was actually a 1-percent increase, because the “base budget reduction” (governor’s give-back) is now figured into Division II units, rather than standing alone, he said.

“In addition, I would note that the governor signed supplemental appropriation legislation last week which provides an additional $10 million to school districts for classroom instruction funds,” Scoglietti wrote (May 3). “This will result in an additional $684,076 that will be allocated to the Indian River School District for textbooks and classroom instructional material.”

Miller agreed all this could be considered as an increase in overall Division II funding. However, he said the state was increasingly telling the districts how they could spend it.

“If they gave us more flexibility, rather than telling us which pot we needed to take the money

out of, we could better manage our money,” Miller said.

While the state budget office claimed to have combined energy and AOC to give the districts more flexibility, Miller said the “Partner$ in Procurement” program, or P2, sometimes limited that effect.

For instance, IRSD recently purchased Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) at a lower costs than those offered through the P2, he said — but stood a good chance of facing criticism, rather than praise, for pursuing better deals.

As Miller suggested, if the governor’s stated goal in P2 was to offset and mitigate general revenue spending, requiring districts to spend more money than needed might not be the way to go.

The district press release also noted the state’s adjustment of the per-square-foot allowance for new construction — right after the IRSD went to referendum on the two new high schools. The state eventually came back to meet the district more than halfway, but they were still left short and had to go into local funds.

Sen. George Howard Bunting (20th District) said the state had to make that adjustment to keep up with market pressure — and they were feeling that pressure everywhere, all the time (he noted rising steel prices at the Indian River Inlet bridge project). “That’s something we really have no ability to control,” he said.

Bunting said he was one of the biggest IRSD supporters anywhere. However, as he pointed out, the state pays 70 percent of the IRSD budget, and 60 percent of the capital improvement budgets, and that money came from every taxpayer in the state.