This article is contributed in the interest of keeping Lee County citizens well informed.
According to the Superintendent of Schools, the Feds and the State are crippling Lee County’s K-12 public education system with dramatic funding cuts projected for 2011-2012. In four consecutive public forums, Dr. Moss used a range of charts and graphs to illustrate just how dramatic his ‘cuts’ have been and how desperate the situation is for sustaining our public schools. Let’s look at some of the numbers he hasn’t shared with the rest of us.
First, let’s examine budget realities. For FY 2010-2011, the total Lee County budget (including inter-governmental transfers) is $62,689,229, which includes drawing down our fund balance by as much as $4.2 Million to cover expenses. High local unemployment and negligible overall growth in the county indicates little additional property and sales tax revenues will be forthcoming in 2011-2012. Plus, the county will be suffering significant federal and state reductions in inter-governmental transfers this next fiscal year, so the overall budget picture for the county is poor. We are expecting to see significant reductions in transfers from state and federal sources in Social Services, Public Health, K-12 Education, and Community Colleges. The total county budget could easily drop to $57,500,000 or lower when all is said and done- representing an overall 8% drop in revenues, maybe even more.
Now, Lee County’s total K-12 public school budget for 2010-2011 was fixed at $83,244,139. According to LCSS spreadsheets, the funding sources include $19,625,841 from the county, $50,341,197 from the state, and 13,277,101 from federal authorities. Let’s assume for the moment that the county elects to sustain the current K-12 funding levels into next year, which would be very gracious. When we deduct the cost of K-12 education funding from the county budget, all that would be left to fund every remaining county function is $38 Million- less than half of the total education budget for Lee County. This means if we simply sustain funding for public education at its current levels we will be spending twice as much for K-12 education as we do for all other county functions combined— Public Health, Sheriff, Jail, Fire Protection, Emergency Services, Mental Health, Social Services, County Administration, Community Colleges, Parks and Recreation, Library, and other services.
But wait, Dr. Moss and the School Board will not be satisfied with even that level of funding. They have indicated they want $6.7 Million more. Meeting that demand would mean all other county offices, who already are facing around 10% cuts, would have to take an additional cut of 12-15% for the school system to sustain operations at current levels. Citizens would never tolerate that severe a reduction in services. This means a property tax hike would be required of somewhere up to $.15 per hundred dollars of valuation to give Dr. Moss what he wants. That’s an increase of 20% on property taxes, again which would be entirely unsupportable. That, alone, would kill business growth in the county, making Lee County completely uncompetitive with the surrounding counties.
Clearly, Dr. Moss is seeking to bite off the hand that feeds him. Here’s a novel idea– how about we tell the school system to live within its means. Perhaps we ask them to do like everyone else in Lee County and tighten their belts. Take some of those 550 or so support and administrative positions in the school system and re-invent how you do business. Protect the teachers and their assistants, because they represent the catalyst for educating our children. Instead, take your cuts elsewhere in the labor pool.
Lee County Schools have built a dependence on non-recurring federal stimulus dollars and now must wean off of those funds. They must immediately stop trying to steal precious resources from the other departments of the county and focus their energies on adapting like everyone else.