No, probably not. But that’s how many the school district would need to lay off to account for the 15 percent budget cut state officials have told Florida schools to expect next year. It comes to $95 million. The Polk district would need to cut 1,700 of its 7,000 teachers to come up with $95 million. It’s more likely that every employee will receive a significant pay cut.
Gov. Charlie Crist’s embrace of the federal stimulus package could reduce that 15 percent cut roughly in half over the next two years – if Crist and other Florida officials can convince the federal government not to enforce rules requiring states receiving stimulus money to be funding schools at 2005-06 levels.
All this was the focus of last night’s school funding meeting at Harrison School of the Arts (where my daugher is a sophomore and I am a parent board member). Mark Grey, the district’s top bean counter, laid out what $95 million translates into for Polk schools.
Here are some highlights from his list:
— 19 percent salary reduction
— a roughly 40-day furlough for all staff
— 1,730 teaching positions
The district would also consider cutting career academies and further reducing support services it has already cut. In the end, the ditstrict will probably use some combination of cuts to make up the deficit. Noting that the district is by far Polk’s largest employer, with 13,000 employees, Grey and Superintendent Gail McKinzie said they want to avoid adding to the county’s economic woes by laying people off. Instead, expect the emphasis to fall on salary cuts.
Let this discussion settle in for those of you think the stimulus package does too much to aid states and not enough to build useless roads. The fact is that public education is, with few exceptions, the prime economic driver of virtually every community. And that doesn’t even consider the actual service it performs.
The purpose of last night’s meetings was to encourage parents to protest these cuts to their state legislators, and I fully endorse that. But beyond that, we all need to ask ourselves what we are willing to pay for. Because there’s no such thing as a free lunch.