Romano: What does 47 cents buy? Florida schools are about to find out

Hundreds of Blake High School students and community activists marched down Tampa's North Boulevard on Feb. 23  to address the inaction of lawmakers to address gun violence. The protest was held in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people. The Florida Legislature increased funding for school safety this session, but school districts complain that will cut into their overall budgets. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Hundreds of Blake High School students and community activists marched down Tampa's North Boulevard on Feb. 23 to address the inaction of lawmakers to address gun violence. The protest was held in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people. The Florida Legislature increased funding for school safety this session, but school districts complain that will cut into their overall budgets. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published March 13

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column that explained how the Florida Legislature had ignored a decade’s worth of requests for additional funding for school safety.

Year after year, lawmakers were told that schools needed more money for cameras, locked entries and campus police officers. And yet the allowance for school safety was even lower than 15 years ago.

The horror of Parkland changed all of that. Legislators dropped what they were doing in the final weeks of the session, and came up with a budget that included a sizable boost for school safety.

This was a victory, they said, for the students. For the parents.

They even patted themselves on the back for a job well done.

There’s just one problem:

They have robbed education to pay for safety.

Superintendents for the largest school districts in Florida say the safety plans will eat up their entire allowance, and force them to dip into general classroom funds to make ends meet.

"Inexplicably, this year’s Ed budget is historically disappointing for South FL schools.,’’ Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho wrote on Twitter.

"The Legislature’s proposed budget, if passed, will force Florida school districts to cut millions of dollars from our budgets — cuts that will impact our schools, our communities and the children we serve,’’ Broward superintendent Robert Runcie wrote in an op-ed.

"The question is are we putting the cost of school safety onto the backs of our hard-working teachers and the students,’’ Pinellas superintendent Mike Grego said Monday.

Legislators were quick to point out that school funding is increasing by $101.50 per pupil, but much of that increase is devoted to safety measures and other funds tied to specific earmarks.

The actual increase for the base student allowance?

Yeah, that works out to 47 cents per student.

In other words, any inflationary increases — such as the cost of fuel or electricity or insurance or retirement contributions or raises or health care — come out of that 47-cent increase.

And it’s not like legislators weren’t aware of this.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, explained it in simple terms before the budget was approved by the Senate and House on Sunday.

"The cost of doing business is not covered by 47 cents,’’ he said. "Florida school districts will have to cut programs. We will have to find a way to save money and scrape by. We told them to put a school resource officer in every school, and then we don’t give them money to pay for it.’’

Because of a complex funding formula, it appears most of the larger school districts will get less than the $101.50 state average increase while some smaller counties will get triple that amount. Hernando is scheduled for $119.18 per student, Pasco will get $88.49, Hillsborough will get $83.85 and Pinellas will get $73.12.

Pinellas was already covering a significant portion of the cost of resource officers, and now it could be spending as much as $5 million more than what the state is providing. It is the cost, Grego said, to ensure every school has a trained officer on campus.

The goal is to meet these demands without effecting other parts of the budget, but it’s hard to see how it can be done without cuts.

"It’s almost inevitable,’’ he said.

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