As school board members were sworn in this week, Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest public school system in the United States, face another year of funding cuts. And with expectations that state legislators do not intend to help schools stay afloat, they are worried.
The school system’s 2010-2011 budget, released in September, indicates that the district will face a “funding cliff” in 2011-2012 and have to lay off more employees in order to balance the budget.
The Florida Independent reported earlier this week that Gov.-elect Rick Scott is committed to using public funds for charter and private schools, as well as enacting more property tax cuts and merit pay rules.
New Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, reiterated this week that the legislature will not raise taxes, despite facing a $2.5 billion shortfall.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Haridopolos said, ”We have two options: Raise taxes or spend less. … We will do more with less; we will tighten our belt and we will not raise taxes a single dime.”
Info from the Broward school system’s Chief Financial Officer shows that Broward County saw a $260 million drop in school taxes between 2008 and 2010, which forced Broward County Public Schools to reduce its workforce — including teachers, school support personnel, and other district employees — to balance the budget. (See the full document below.)
The school system’s 2010-2011 budget runs to about $1.98 billion, with 59 percent used for classroom services and 41 percent for school-level administration and other school-level services. The 2009-10 budget was $1.93 billion — a $256 million reduction compared to the 2008-2009 budget. State funds account for over half of the Broward school system’s budget.
Broward employees laid off at the end of the 2009-2010 school year were put back to work in August through the federal Education Jobs bill, while the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus bill) provided stabilization funds to “save and create jobs” and “improve student achievement through school improvement and reform.”
The ’10-’11 budget released in September explains that “because Florida chose to apply [stimulus] funds to its budget shortfall, the State supplanted education funding instead of enhancing it. Therefore, Broward County Public Schools are now ‘saving’ as many jobs as possible with these funds as opposed to enhancing education through school improvement and reform.”
The budget document adds that in 2011-2012, the district will again have to reduce its number of employees to balance its budget. In 2010-2011, out of almost 20,000 school employees, about 12,500 were teachers.
“Public education is a constitutional responsibility of the legislature,” Karen Aronowitz, president of the United Teachers of Dade and a Miami native, tells The Florida Independent. “Education reform starts with adequate funding. If you want to go beyond public education, be my guest, once you have upheld the constitution of this state.”
Aronowitz considers public education a cornerstone of democracy and points out that 90 percent of children in the U.S. go to public institutions for their education. But she insists this state has chosen not to fund public education.
“I don’t know if people will accept this robbery of our public education when they see what it means,” she says.
“We were at the bottom of spending on children and over the last four or five years there have been budget cuts to public schools for vouchers, corporate charter schools, virtual schools,” says Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, which calls itself “the single largest organized force supporting public education in Florida.”
Pudlow says there are good private schools that take voucher students and charter schools that do well, but there are also those that do not perform better than public schools.
“We are abrogating our constitutional duty by setting up parallel schools,” he says.
Senate Bill 6, approved in the last legislative session, would have tied teacher pay to student success in standardized testing, and implemented end-of-course testing. It was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist, but Gov.-elect Scott and Senate President Haridopolos are committed to moving forward with a similar measure.
“With merit pay, you are measuring one thing, a test that happens usually once a year,” Pudlow says. “We grade our schools, we declare victory or failure by standardized test scores — that is a narrow vision of education. And now you say you’re going to measure the value of teachers through standardized tests.”
Pudlow says students learn about issues that are not tested: socialization, respect for authority, critical thinking. He also says the standards to measure have not yet been set and may vary from one year to the next.
“Last time, S.B. 6 had no input from anyone except leadership in the legislation and that didn’t go over very well with the public,” Pudlow says. “This time there needs to be the participation of teachers, parents, but if it [is] done without education experts if political leaders ignore administrators, districts, PTA, teachers, and parents you’ll see opposition. But what form it will take, we don’t know.”
For United Teachers of Dade’s Aronowitz, another Senate Bill 6-type law would lead her to question whether legislators are interested in doing their duty, saying it would come across as a way to punish teachers.
Aronowitz highlights the need for diagnostic and achievement tests, but cautions against misuse of tests, saying the public education system is “under-educating our children” by relying heavily on standardized testing.
“Do you support your soldiers or shoot at them?” Aronowitz says. “Do legislators want to have a war with teachers and parents?”
The Chief Financial Officer’s report: