U.S., state funding uncertainties put school district in a dilemma
TAMPA - On one hand, there is the looming and nightmarish possibility of millions of dollars of cuts in federal funds because of the continuing budget showdown in the nation's capital. On the other, there is the silver living of Gov. Rick Scott's proposed state budget that adds more than a billion dollars to education, the highest funding level in Florida's history. That leaves local education officials, such as those in Hillsborough County, in quite a conundrum as they try to figure out their budgets for next year and beyond. The most significant effects come from the sequestration that has resulted already in a number of cuts across the nation. Cuts to the Hillsborough County school district could run in the millions of dollars, but the exact amount may not be known for months.School officials are worried about how any such funding cuts could affect low-income and special-needs students. Those are two groups that rely heavily on federal funding at the local level. "The most vulnerable are the most vulnerable," said Jeff Eakins, the general director for federal programs for the Hillsborough school district. "It's going to be ugly for everyone," said school board member Candy Olson. The budget uncertainties affect a district's ability to look too far into the future, officials said at a budget workshop Tuesday. "The threat of it makes us very conservative in how we move forward," Eakins said. "My issue is always two years down the road. It's the year after you have nothing left on the table." Superintendent MaryEllen Elia told board members that the Council of the Great City Schools is trying to lobby those in the nation's capital to let them know about the fiscal crisis that could be on the horizon for schools. "There are people in Washington who don't know there's a storm brewing," she said. "I think we have to plan for the worst." On the state level, however, things aren't looking as dire on the funding front. There's $100 million for new technology in the state budget, which would include more than $7 million for Hillsborough County alone, if approved. There's millions for teacher supplies and a push by the governor to give full-time classroom teachers a $2,500 raise. What ends up being approved by lawmakers remains to be seen. Board members aren't quarreling with the proposed numbers coming out of Tallahassee, however, even if they are suspicious of the reasons behind the move. "It's an election year," said board Chairwoman April Griffin.
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