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Empty desks cost $2.5M
The school district gained far fewer students than expected. It's a blow to the budget.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published September 20, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando County School Board's budget is barely two weeks old, but officials say it's already looking outdated.
The district was already facing the possible loss of $3.2-million in state money because of a projected $1.1-billion revenue shortfall statewide, and far greater losses if voters approve a Jan. 29 tax rollback referendum.
Now, the board faces another budget shock.
Nearly two-thirds of the district's anticipated enrollment increase - the full-time equivalent of 578 students out of an expected 957 - has failed to materialize this fall, finance director Deborah Bruggink said this week. That leaves the district with a net gain of only 379 full-time students.
Each of those missing students would have brought state funding. The combined losses could mean a $5.7-million hit to the $177.5-million operating budget that was approved Sept. 4, she said.
Board members listened quietly Tuesday as Bruggink ran through her numbers.
While the new budget anticipated the $3.2-million state cutback, she said, it didn't take into account enrollment shortfalls because the 957-student gain was viewed by state officials as a conservative one last spring.
So the district will have to cut about $2.5-million from the budget for the year already under way. That could jeopardize the board's aim of providing a 5.5 percent salary increase to teachers and noninstructional staff, Bruggink acknowledged.
Whether those goals can be met depends on several factors, including the outcome of an Oct. 3 special session of the Legislature and the possibility of lower health care premiums, she said.
"We do collect a little bit more than what we budget for property taxes," Bruggink said, describing the strategy of most districts to build a budget based on 95 percent of revenues. "That's worth about $1.2-million."
The board might choose to cut back on discretionary travel or summer duties, or even dip into emergency reserve funds, to put more money into salaries, she added.
"That's what your rainy day fund is for, unanticipated events," Bruggink said. "I think the board supports doing whatever it can for teachers and noninstructional staff."
Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association union, said his members need every dollar they can get.
"I have teachers and noninstructional staff who worked this summer as custodians, with college degrees," he said, describing the effect of low teacher salaries. "Because they needed to supplement their income."