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Another $1-million for schools? Maybe

State lawmakers are trying to update the formula that balances cost-of-living differences among districts.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published April 6, 2004

A Florida Senate budget plan that could bring Pasco County schools about $1-million more next year has made it over its first big hurdle.

The Senate last week approved a budget bill that would change a controversial formula that compensates districts for cost-of-living differences, increasing the chances that Pasco's schools could see a $19-per-pupil increase, said Greg Giordano, assistant to Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Now, the Senate measure faces the scrutiny of House leaders as both chambers work to hammer out differences in their two spending plans beginning next week.

"They're at least talking about it," said Chuck Rushe, chief financial officer for Pasco County schools, which has approximately 57,000 students.

School leaders like Rushe have been skeptical about the chances of the measure's passage because of years of watching such formula discussions yield few results.

The current cost-of-living formula benefits large, urban districts like Miami-Dade and even Pinellas, where the cost of doing business is expected to be greater. Those also are districts that have been able to wield their lobbying power to stomp out prospects of change in what is called the "District Cost Differential," which opponents charge is unfair.

Altogether, the existing formula increases funding for six districts while penalizing Florida's 61 other county school districts.

If the new Senate plan were implemented over three years as proposed, the number of districts getting less money would be reduced to 27.

"It's a difficult issue," Rushe said of the current formula. "County to county, no one's happy with it. Everyone feels like it mistreats them."

Although Thursday's House-approved version of the budget does not change the formula, a measure that made it through the House budget committee Friday would phase out the cost-of-living formula altogether in the next five years.

Giordano said that anything can happen in conference, but that his office was glad the matter had made it this far.

"Sen. Fasano is very pleased to see that Pasco has been noticed," Giordano said.

Pasco County schools' operating budget this year is $640-million, $221-million of which comes from the state.

[Last modified April 6, 2004, 01:35:40]


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