School Board: Where is the money?

School Board Member Dr. Gunnar Paulson did the math and according to him it does not add up.

At the March 3 regular School Board of Alachua County meeting Paulson offered proof that it is time for Alachua County residents, teachers, and staff to start calling local and state representatives to find out when they are going to fight for funding to keep public schools running.

Paulson distributed an itemized list to fellow board members of all 67 counties in Florida categorized by which counties had no extra funding beyond the State allocation, which counties had one source of extra income such as an impact fee, which counties had two extra sources of income such as millage rate and a capital impact fee and which counties had three sources of extra funding with a millage rate, impact fee and sales tax add on.

Alachua County, Paulson noted, has a 1 mill rate that raises $16.5 million and .5 Capital Impact Fee that raises $21 million.

Quotable

“It’s just another dirty trick by the State to take money from employees and not put it in the retirement system, which is what they’re paying for… It’s another ploy to kill public education. One of many.”

–School Board Chair Eileen Roy

The problem, Paulson surmised after analyzing the data, is that there needs to be a significant increase in the base student allocation (BSA) so it covers the increase in costs of education and there needs to be an increase in pay for employees. “There’s not enough money in the program for retirement,” he said.

Paulson also addressed the 2011 shut off of cost of living increases for teacher salaries.

“Say you got 30 years in,” Paulson said about how the pay increase worked before legislators froze the cost of living increase in 2011. “You got a three percent increase. If you got hired in 2011 at $35,000 you retire at $35,000.

“They are starving it, and they know they are starving it,” Paulson said about legislators and representatives in Tallahassee naming the Speaker of the House as an example.

At the federal level Paulson said, “You’ve got a President with a trillion dollar budget deficit. The highest in history, when the economy is going good.”

Board Member Tina Certain thanked Dr. Paulson for his analysis and reiterated, “I do agree with him.

“The required local effort continues to be rolled back and makes absolutely no sense given the cost of doing business as a school district continues to rise.

“Healthcare costs, fuel costs,” Certain noted. “We’d like to increase the salaries of our employees via cost of living raises. That’s hard to do if they’re constantly rolling back the millage rate that we’re able to access here locally and raise money.”

Certain said a recent 3 percent funding increase was instituted a few years ago. “What they did not do, is put it in the retirement fund. They put it in the general fund.

“So instead of putting the money where it should have gone to cover the pension liability, they didn’t do it. This is not just going to hit the State of Florida, not just the school districts, it’s going to hit everyone that has a defined benefit pension plan that if you don’t have enough assets in your plan to cover your liability. It’s hard to have the assets when it seems they keep raiding the treasury instead of putting it where it belongs.”

Certain echoed Dr. Paulson’s urging for people to reach out to elected representatives and let them know the seriousness of the situation.

“Employees in our district and in the State of Florida should be contacting our legislators and asking them to do right by the funding instead of putting the money in the general fund and using it for tax breaks,” Certain said. “Before we changed Governors we had one of the strongest retirement systems in the U.S. It didn’t get to where it’s gotten until the leadership changed.

“We need to try to make our voices heard at the State level so that we can protect the plan.”

School Board Chair Eileen Roy spoke next. “It’s just another dirty trick by the State to take money from employees and not put it in the retirement system, which is what they’re paying for,” Roy said. “And then send us the bill for the shortfall $2.5 million sprung on us. We’re getting $40 a student and having to pay them $80. It’s another ploy to kill public education. One of many.”

School Board Member Rob Hyatt commented, “It really helps us to put things into perspective. If we’re gaining $40 per student and yet our expenses are $80, then we aren’t really getting helped. There’s sort of this bait and switch, or at the very least, no full disclosure.”

Paulson noted that Pinellas County used their half mill rate to raise teacher salaries and wanted to be able to do the same for Alachua County teachers.

“Education is big business and they want a piece of the pie,” Paulson said about his theory as to why state representatives were not looking out for the public school system.

Paulson suggested anyone with concerns start calling and emailing the following elected officials:

Florida Representative Clovis Watson, (352) 264-4001, Clovis.Watson@myfloridahouse.gov

Senator Keith Perry, (352) 264-4040, perry.keith@flsenate.gov

Florida Representative Charles Wesley ”Chuck” Clemons (R), (352) 313-6542, Chuck.Clemons@myfloridahouse.gov

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