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Broward schools budget has less cash for buses, teachers

Miami Herald - 7/22/2008 12:00:00 AM
by Hannah Sampson

Broward school district officials unveiled a pared-down proposed budget for the upcoming school year on Monday, earmarking less money for new schools, teachers, buses, administrators, training -- and just about everything else.

The tentative $5.05 billion budget is about $363 million less than last year's, and the resulting cuts will reach from the district's central and area offices into the classrooms.

The proposed cuts come mainly from two sources -- $25 million from the district level and another $25 million from school budgets, which will likely impact the number of non-teaching staff.

The new budget requires that about 80 teachers who were on special assignment -- away from the classroom -- return to teaching and calls for 200 other staff positions to be frozen.

Despite the cuts, Broward Schools Superintendent Jim Notter said unlike other districts, Broward is better prepared for the financial shortfall, adding it will likely not feel ''any big impact,'' he said Monday.

''We've done a quality job at slowly restricting spending and being able to put those dollars aside,'' he said.

For parents, Notter said the cuts could mean a longer wait to have answers to their questions and requests, and some clerical positions in the main offices might not be filled.

Middle school sports will also take a hit, with fewer games scheduled and less money for uniforms.

The district is also working on consolidating bus stops for magnet programs.

The budget left untouched about $24 million for pay increases for teachers that were negotiated as part of last year's contract, as well as $15 million in healthcare increases. A new contract is still being negotiated.

Miami-Dade teachers are locked in battle with their district for their promised raises.

But Notter hinted at more belt-tightening as the upcoming school year progresses: districts have been told to prepare for the state to hold back more money mid-year.

For Broward, that could mean a loss of another $20 million to $30 million, he said.

''By a little bit of luck and a lot of brainpower . . . we've been able to keep a calm sea at a very, very difficult time in Florida's economy,'' Notter said. ``I'm just not sure I can sustain that through the year.''

$94 MILLION LESS

Budget director Jane Turner said the district is starting out the new year with $94 million less than the previous year after the state took away $34 million during last school year and $60 million for the upcoming year.

''It's a significant decrease for the district,'' Turner said.

Broward is the nation's sixth-largest school district, with nearly 260,000 students, more than 18,500 teachers and about 285 schools.

Sometime in the upcoming year, Notter said, the district will likely have to ''re-engineer'' itself, permanently cutting some of the positions that are frozen. Those positions do not include teachers.

Broward School Board Chairwoman Robin Bartleman said the cuts are ``getting close to cutting the bone -- if we're not already there.''

She called the state's funding of education ``deplorable.''

''We get asked to do more with less,'' Bartleman said. ``In these tight budget times, the board is going to do everything in their power to minimize the impact to the classroom.''

The impact to Broward homeowners is not likely to be severe; the proposed budget does not raise the school tax rate.

TAX BILL

The tentative rate of about $7.42 per $1,000 of taxable property means the average homeowner in Broward, with a home assessed at about $237,000, would see about a $49 drop in the school portion of a tax bill, assuming the property is eligible for the state's homestead exemption and its value has not changed from last year.

The proposed budget still needs board approval -- and the public's input.