Pinellas schools to see state funding increase
LARGO - Next year, Pinellas County Schools will get an additional $37 million in funding from the state, about half of which will fund raises for teachers, principals and assistant principals. The raises will account for about $18 million in extra state funding coming to the district next school year, school officials said during today’s school board workshop. While this is the second year Pinellas schools have seen an increase in funding from the state, the district’s budget is still smaller than it was in 2007, when it received $7,396 per student. Per-student funding for the 2013-14 budget year will be $6,723 $402 more than this year. Property tax values, which account for the bulk of the school district’s budget, are predicted to go up next year, but exactly how much won’t be known until June, school Superintendent Michael Grego said.“We need to get going on this,” Grego said. “Our teachers need to know what they’ll have next year, and then we can start working on everything else like how many employees we’ll have.” Despite the increases, school officials are considering $16 million in proposed cuts, including the elimination of 65 teaching positions and 27 physical education instructors and assistants. The school district hopes to trim costs enough to rebuild reserve funds that have been used to balance previous years’ budgets. The Legislature approved raises of at least $2,500 for teachers. Pinellas school officials have identified 8,268 employees they think are eligible for pay increases – including teachers, principals and assistant principals – but still need to determine how to award raises, Grego said. The school district’s legal staff is reviewing the bills approved by the Legislature to figure out who is eligible for a raise, because the $18 million earmarked won’t cover everyone the school district thinks should get one. “That’s the biggest concern: the expectation they’ve established in teachers,” said Bruce Proud, executive director of the Pinellas County teachers union. “It is a challenge when you see so many different changes going on in the district, and it’s hard for people to focus on anything positive when … many don’t even know yet what’s going to happen with their jobs. “So it’s hard to get that message across to them that this is a positive budget year.” The teachers union is scheduling meetings with Grego and other school district officials to sort through the details of the raises and establish a schedule for salary negotiations, Proud said. Pinellas schools also will get an increase in Title 1 funding, said Title 1 Director Mary Conage. The school district’s projected allocation is $23 million, but it likely will receive more, Conage said. Though the school district used to be required to spend a set amount of Title 1 funding on supplemental education services, such as tutoring, it will be able to spend the money on whatever it wants. That means more than $7 million of the money can be spent as the school board sees fit. Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg will receive $400,000 of Title 1 funding, the largest amount going to any one school. The school district’s biggest priorities for next year are providing students with additional learning time, either after school or in the summer, increasing family and community engagement efforts, offering more professional development for teachers and offering more early academic help to students before they rack up failure after failure, Conage said. “We don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch, but I already have a lot of ideas on how we could spend extra money,” Conage said. “I have this vision of having designated liaisons to increase parent involvement like crazy, to grab people by the collar and get them involved.” The school district also will receive $639,953 to test how prepared schools are to offer computerized standardized tests under the new Common Core standards. “It is a recognition that school districts needed more capability to get ready for these online tests,” said Steve Swartzel, the district’s director of governmental services. The school district also will be required to pay college tuition for students pursuing dual-enrollment degrees; but that requirement is expected to have no fiscal impact next year because Pinellas school officials have an agreement with St. Petersburg College, which will provide free tuition for a year while the school district figures out how to pay for those classes, Grego said. School officials will discuss next year’s budget this summer and will approve a final spending plan in September. A majority of the School Board’s June 27 workshop will be devoted to the budget and the school district’s strategic plan, said school board Chairwoman Carol Cook.