Broward schools face tough choices in reduced budget plan

Jul 28, 2008

Kathy Bushouse

South Florida Sun-Sentinel


Fewer games for middle school sports teams. Consolidating bus stops to save money on gas. Delaying school construction projects.

With the loss of millions in state money, the Broward County School Board is faced with tough choices on what stays, and what goes, from its budget.

School board members weighed in earlier this year on what they thought could be cut from the district's $5 billion budget. On Tuesday, they'll have their first of two public hearings on the spending plan, so the public can give their input.

"This is the worst budget that I've been through," said School Board Chairwoman Robin Bartleman. "This is the worst cut to public education in years."

There's much less to go around this year. The school district's proposed $5.05 billion budget is roughly $315 million less than last year's budget, with spending cuts in nearly every area except food service. The total proposed budget decreased nearly 5.9 percent compared with last year.

The district lost roughly $60 million in state money earmarked for the 2008-09 school year, and could take another $20 million to $30 million hit from the state later this year, said Broward Schools Superintendent James Notter.

This year's proposed tax rate is $7.42 for every $1,000 of taxable value, down from last year's tax rate of $7.65. The total budget is split into two parts: The district's $2.1 billion general fund and its $2.6 billion capital budget. The general fund is partly reliant on state money to pay for items such as teacher and staff salaries and school district operating costs. The capital budget uses property taxes to pay for construction projects and new equipment such as computers and buses.

The cuts from the state meant that schools and the district had to significantly curb their own spending, with $25 million coming from schools and $25 million from the district's central office, Notter said. Area superintendents were directed to look for "the maximum that each school could reduce without a direct impact to the classroom teacher," Notter said.

The district also froze hiring for noninstructional jobs, cut spending on supplies and froze consultants' contracts to save money, he said.

Here are some other highlights from this year's school district budget. For the complete budget, see www.browardschools.com.

Teachers still will get pay raises if they progress to the next salary step, under an agreement negotiated last year with the school district. Whether they'll get anything in addition will depend on ongoing contract negotiations between the district and the Broward Teachers Union.

The district's food service budget increased by 11.45 percent, but the cost of food also is up. So the School Board recently approved an increase to the price of school meals, which district officials say will allow them to break even while allowing them to offer healthier options, such as whole wheat instead of white bread.

Two new schools in southwest Broward will be delayed, but classroom additions will be built at a number of schools, including a four-classroom addition at Pembroke Pines Elementary School, a 24-classroom addition at Westglades Middle School in Parkland and a 36-classroom addition at Western High School in Davie.




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