Next school year could be financial train wreck

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By Steve Waters

The School Board of Levy County is one of 13 school districts in Florida that may not receive federal funds that could be used to assist in reforming education and turning around struggling area schools.

The Levy County Education Association refused to sign a memorandum of understanding that stated the district’s willingness to participate in the Race to the Top program. If Florida is granted the $700 million it is applying for, Levy County could lose out on $1.145 million over four years.

The deadline to sign the memorandum was Tuesday, May 25.

Speaking before the board during Tuesday’s meeting, Cindy Roach, president of the teacher’s union, said she presented a local memorandum of understanding to Superintendent Bob Hastings.

Hastings said that for the union to participate in Race to the Top, the school district had to sign the local memo.

Roach cited that the school district and union have been at an impasse four times in five years. The union wanted reassurance that Race to the Top wouldn’t be a potential impasse issue in the future. The local memorandum also stated that once the Race to the Top funding was completed, the school district would return to the “status quo,” Roach said.

Hastings declined to sign the local memorandum. Roach later said she approached the district about working together on the memorandum, saying she wanted the two parties to work together and agreeing to the terms of the document.

“The union is always willing to work towards a more collaborative environment,” Roach said.

“We would like to see more evidence of that,” Hastings replied.

For the federal Race to the Top paperwork, signatures were required from the superintendent, president of the union and the school board president.

Levy County is one of 13 counties in the state with unions that did not have the union president’s signature in the second phase memorandum.

The Florida Education Association, the consortium of the state’s teacher’s unions, has given its approval for the second phase of Race to the Top. The FEA urged union members not to sign off on the first phase of funding, which Florida did not win.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, with the school board looking to cut costs because of the tough economy, Hastings also said that according to the district’s latest numbers, spending has been decreased by $3.5 million.

However, $1.5 million in district salaries was transferred to the stabilization fund, with another $1 million going to another fund.

Hastings said that the true decrease in spending was only about $1 million for the district’s general fund.

Hastings described the next school year as a potential “cliff, or a train wreck” financially because the current stabilization funds are expected to run out. He said finding the $2.5 million next year will be a challenge, potentially putting as many as 69 jobs at risk.

“How are we going to keep them employed?” Hastings asked. “It’s a very real concern.”

Hastings said a federal $23 billion “cushion” to help school districts was rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We are looking at a very serious decline in revenue unless our state steps forward and somehow funds education and softens the blow of losing that revenue,” Hastings said.”

In a non-agenda item, Hastings presented to the board a petition to move forward in the termination of school district employee Dana Davis.

Hastings said Davis violated school board policy, presenting to her boss a fraudulent letter that Davis said was from her doctor. She later admitted that she created the letter, Hastings said.

The board approved that Davis be suspended without pay. Davis has 21 days to respond to the petition, and a hearing will be scheduled in the future to discuss termination.

The school board awarded a bid to W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor for the delivery and installation of a replacement cooling tower at Chiefland Elementary school. The also awarded bids to United Fuel to supply petroleum products and Whetstone Oil Co. to supply motor oil.