Pasco County Schools is gearing up for a tough budget year.
“We have been working on budget,” Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning told school board members at a May 5 virtual school board meeting.
“It’s not a so-rosy picture of a budget. We’re working with department budgets and the district budget as a whole. We know that it’s going to be tight, and we’re very cautious going into this next budget and school year, not knowing what the Legislature is going to do, or possibly do, as it relates to any special session.
“I just wanted the board to know that we’re having some very, very, very serious discussions about the budget,” Browning said.
Board member Allen Altman told his colleagues that they need to be forward-thinking about the possibility of budget cuts.
He said having to make cuts during the Great Recession was “the worst experience of my elected career.”
“I can tell you that I’ve talked to a couple of directors of state agencies in the past week, who have quietly been told to look at what a 20% cut would do. And, I looked today at the sales tax figures for Florida for month of March and they were down $770 million, and April is expected to be even worse.
“We don’t need to start jumping out of ships yet, but I think that it would be prudent for us to be cognizant of the situation that the state and other local governments may be in and consider that, as we make decisions going forward,” he said.
He also told board members he had met with the Value Adjustment Board and the county’s tax roll will be certified at about $27.4 billion for 2019. That compares to slightly more than $25 billion for 2018.
But, he said, “there is some fear going forward that commercial real estate, especially in retail and boxes, could see upwards of a 20% decline.”
Board member Cynthia Armstrong said she listened to a webinar hosted by the Florida School Boards Association that featured three chief financial officers talking about what to expect, and what school boards should be doing.
Revenue figures for April will be released on May 25, which should give the district an idea of what it will be looking at, she said.
During the webinar, the CFO said “to expect that it’s very possible that the Legislature might go into special session, say in November, and adjust the budget, and we definitely could have some drawbacks,” Armstrong said.
“So, when we do our budget, we’re going to have to think about that, that it’s very likely that the budget could be cut, partway through the year, and we need to make sure that we’re planning for that,” she said.
“It’s going to be a very tough budgeting year for us,” she said.
She also noted that supporting the pay raise that’s in state legislation may require the district to reduce its staffing allocations.
Armstrong also urged the board to return to a face-to-face board meetings, to the degree possible, as soon as possible.
She said that fosters better communications at a time when important conversations must be had.
School board member Alison Crumbley agreed that discussions are more effective when they are done in person, to the degree possible.
“Hopefully, we’re going to get to that point really, really soon,” she said.
School will feel different, going forward
Don Peace, president of United School Employees of Pasco (USEP), commented on distance learning and what to expect in the future.
“Some students have found that they are better suited to this manner of learning. Still others long to be back in the traditional classroom, interacting with teachers and classmates,” Peace said.
“Maybe there’s case to be made that a hybrid of sorts could be utilized for future learning, capturing the best of both worlds,” Peace added.
“Whatever the case, I think we better have some options available next fall.
“However next year plays out, whether we start on time, or after Labor Day, it will definitely not be the same scenario that we left before Spring Break.
“Families may decide it not best for their student to return to a brick-and-mortar building for either real, or imagined, fears.
“Some of our teachers may elect not to return for their own reasons.
“I think that next year is going to be really trying for all of us, in matters other than just financial.
“I am asking the district to keep USEP in the communication loop, regarding any future plans, as we certainly are all in this together,” Peace said.
Published May 20, 2020