The State Legislature has agreed on a budget and I regret to report that the statewide cuts for education are deeper than expected.
As I wrote in an earlier update, we expected the revenue shortfall to be in the range of $75 million. Instead, it appears that the shortfall for Hillsborough County Public Schools will be $100 million.
Despite the deeper cuts, I will repeat my earlier characterization of our financial status: It is as good as could be expected at this difficult time.
I would like to briefly discuss two sources of funding that will help us address this shortfall. The first is very good news; the second, quite frankly, will adversely affect all our salaries.
We can rely on our $40 million allocation of federal Education Jobs Funds to help plug the budget hole. The money was allocated last year and it must be spent within two years.
Because we planned ahead and showed fiscal restraint, we were not forced to use the Education Jobs Funds money last year. We are fortunate to have that money for the coming year. Many school districts spent some or all of their Education Jobs Funds last year, and cannot rely on that money this year. Those school districts are now having serious discussions about employee layoffs, furloughs, etc.
The Legislature plans to require that public employees who are in the Florida Retirement System (FRS) contribute 3 percent of their salaries (before taxes) toward the FRS. That contribution will enable school districts to not spend as much money to support the FRS system for our employees.
Let me explain. Under the legislators’ plan, the amount that we do not have to contribute to FRS results in “new revenue” for district budgets. We don’t have a total, but we expect that it will be of tremendous help in addressing our budget shortfall. I know that the benefit to the district budget comes at the expense of our employees’ salaries. We are all aware that it will have the same effect as a pay cut for our employees. For employees making $25,000 a year before taxes, the 3 percent FRS contribution would result in a salary reduction of $750. For an employee making $50,000 a year, that results in a salary reduction of $1,500.
The state budget still must be approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. But we believe the budget will be approved.
Though our school district is in better shape than most, we face enormous challenges. I assure you that the School Board and I will do everything we can to honor the priorities expressed by our employees in a survey two years ago: We want to avoid layoffs and furloughs. We will continue to stick to our principles and work to reduce the impact on our classrooms, students and our employees. But, make no mistake - there will be an impact.
As always, thank you for everything you do for our students.