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Saturday, May 21, 2011

20,000 Education Jobs could be Lost in Florida

From the Ledger

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

TALLAHASSEE | While promising to create a world-class education system, Gov. Rick Scott has simultaneously proposed the deepest cuts for Florida public schools by any governor in recent history.

EDUCATION CUTSIn Polk County, the cuts in Gov. Rick Scott's education budget would represent a $62 million loss, compared with $29.2 million in Manatee and $15.3 million in Charlotte County.

In Sarasota County, represent a $22.5 million loss in funding.

In Marion County, it would represent a $24.3 million loss.

In Alachua County, it would represent a $20.2 million loss.

The threat of layoffs comes at the same time Scott and lawmakers are pushing to make other major changes that will impact teachers, including revamping the way they are hired, fired and evaluated and requiring them to help pay for their pensions.

Overall, this year is shaping up as one of the most tumultuous for Florida educators in decades. Some observers suggest it could be the most chaotic for Florida schools since 1968, when teachers staged a statewide walkout after Gov. Claude Kirk and lawmakers could not agree on a school funding plan.

No one is suggesting that Florida will see another such walkout, nor a march on the state capital like the protests involving teachers that engulfed Wisconsin last week. But the 2011 legislative session beginning next month will clearly cause considerable anxiety for everyone connected to Florida's schools.

Legislative leaders that they have no intention of embracing Scott's deep reductions for the prekindergarten-through-12th grade system. A Senate education budget chairman gave a "resounding no" to the suggestion the Senate would adopt Scott's cuts.

But even smaller cuts would result in the loss of nearly $300 in per-student funding in the schools, which would still result in thousands of layoffs.

"My school districts, based on the governor's budget, are in a panic," said Wayne Blanton, a longtime lobbyist for the Florida School Boards Association.

"I've never seen a governor's budget that was this draconian for education at the same time you're talking about creating a better economic climate," said Blanton, who has spent 36 years working with the state Legislature. "You don't create a world-class education system by trying to cut it or lay off teachers in the classrooms."


But Scott has characterized this as a year of reckoning, a time for the state to fully adjust to a more austere period after being artificially buoyed by $1 billion in federal stimulus funding for preK-12 schools. He has insisted that the state must live within its means.

Calling the stimulus spending "one-time handouts from the federal government," Scott said they allowed Florida and other states "to spend beyond their means."

If not changed, the cuts could be devastating for the Florida schools. They would represent a $1.75 billion loss in the next budget year, which begins July 1. School districts would lose nearly $1 -- or nearly 10 percent -- of every $10 the state now sends.

His cuts go deeper in part because at the same time he is cutting spending, he also wants to reduce state taxes, including a $459 million cut in the corporate income tax and a $508 million cut in property taxes for schools.

Legislative leaders have been more reluctant to embrace the tax cuts before resolving the shortfall. Among their concerns is that deeply cutting funding could undermine some of the advances Florida schools have made in recent years. Last month, a national survey by Education Week ranked Florida's public education system at fifth in the nation among the 50 states.

Additionally, they say cutting per-student funding by as much as $700 -- from $6,900 to $6,200 -- could jeopardize the ability of many districts to comply with the state constitutional class size limits.

"It's absolutely impossible," Blanton said.

Nonetheless, legislative leaders say cuts will have to be made in education, health care and other major state programs to overcome a $3.6 billion budget shortfall with revenues this spring, as well as to set aside enough reserves to maintain a healthy state credit rating.

Scott and his budget advisers say the cuts can be offset by using a one-time pot of federal money and cash freed up by requiring teachers and other school personnel to pay 5 percent of their salaries for their pensions.

That could put the per-student cut in the range of about $300, although Jerry McDaniel, the governor's budget director, acknowledged those cuts could still result in layoffs becausemore than 80 percent of the school funding goes toward personnel costs.


But a key Senate leader said that will not happen.

"Are we looking at the cuts the governor is making? The answer is no, a resounding no," said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, chairman of the Senate budget subcommittee for preK-12 schools.

Simmons said while cuts will be made, they will not impact the quality of education nor any of the state's recent advancements. He said he does not anticipate any layoffs, while acknowledging some jobs may be lost through attrition.

School advocates say those moves are being made as a new survey showed Florida's teachers' salaries ranked 37th in the nation in the 2009-10 school year, according to the National Education Association. The average teacher pay in Florida was $46,708 last year.

In the long term, low pay, higher pension costs and less job security will make recruiting top-quality teachers "a real problem" for school districts around the state, Blanton said.

"If you want the best and the brightest, you can't continue pounding and blaming teachers for what's going on in the economic climate," he said. "You're not going to climb out of a hole on the backs of public schools."

1 comment:

  1. Hi all...

    The institutions of higher education play a pivotal role in shaping the fortune of a nation. Most people take up the higher education jobs as they love teaching or like associating themselves with the institutes of learning. Thanks a lot.