The inevitable became reality this week for Gulf District Schools.
During a special meeting Monday, Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton officially notified the School Board and the union representing district employees of a Reduction of Force as the public schools stare down a deficit of more than $800,000 for the next budget year.
The cuts have been predicted by Norton for months, even with the voter approval of a one mill additional levy in March that continues for four years.
“We had a projected shortfall of more than $2 million without the additional one mill,” Norton said. “This school year is balanced. This is all based on next year’s projections.
“As we have known about the shortfall, even with the additional mill, we had to sit down and plan for it, to identify potential cuts. We knew this was coming.”
Notifying the School Board and union of the pending job cuts is a requirement by law.
The notification also provides some flexibility to the district on how cuts will be made.
The district, as it does each year, last month notified those personnel employed for less than three years and on annual contract that their contracts were up.
In a typical year, the district will hire nearly all those teachers back once budget numbers are clear.
The union, president Billy Hoover said, would like the district to make the cuts from that pool of teachers and not hire 30 back before cutting other teaching positions.
“They want to cut tenured teachers, which I don’t understand,” Hoover said.
However, where a Reduction of Force notification has been issued, state law mandates that districts not take seniority into account on job cuts.
“We can not make these cuts on the back of our younger teachers,” Norton said. “As the state requires, we had to decide that the number one priority was to identify our program needs of the students of Gulf County.”
Norton said the estimated number of positions eliminated in the teaching ranks to be 12-15, adding that cuts will be significantly realized through attrition.
As detailed in the Reduction of Force notification, much of the focus on job cuts will be among instructional personnel, but Norton said there will be cuts in administrative and non-instructional positions.
Among the various services the district provides, including transportation and food service, the district will also look at the viability of outsourcing custodial/janitorial services, which would eliminate 11-12 positions.
Norton, however, noted that in examining the spectrum of cuts, administrative cuts in the schools will prove difficult as each school is already operating without an assistant principal. District staff has also been reduced each of the past two years.
“We are literally in the marrow,” Norton said. “We aren’t in the muscle, we aren’t in the bone. We are in the marrow.
“We do not have assistant principals in the schools. We are very light in district staff. We think we do an excellent job with the existing staff.”
Given the current numbers for public school financing in the Florida Legislature – and they are subject to change in the final weeks of the legislative session before arriving on the governor’s desk – the district will bring in $16.26 million in revenue next year against $17.128 in expenditures, translating into a shortfall of $868,249 for fiscal year 2013-14.
Included in those expenditures is $190,000 in what Norton called an “unfunded mandate” for the district to pick up 2 percent of the 3 percent employees must now pay toward retirement and $307,849 in merit-based teacher raises that can not be spent for any other use.
“Again, Tallahassee is setting the terms and passing down unfunded mandates,” Norton said. “They get to look good and bad and they make us look bad and ugly.”
Compounding that is declining enrollment.
The district receives roughly $3,200 in state financing for every full-time equivalent student. The district has lost more than 400 students the past decade.
This year alone, Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School saw enrollment erode by nearly 40 students, more than offsetting modest gains at the two elementary schools.
“There is $100,000 in funding lost,” Norton said. “But despite that, we are a high-performing district that ranks in the top 25 percent in the state of Florida. We have two ‘A’ schools and in comparison Bay County does not have one.
“We have wonderful schools that serve our community. To cut any further than we are going to and deliver the high level of service we do now would be an impossible task.”
The School Board will formally begin considering areas for budget cuts beginning with its next regular meeting, to be held 6 p.m. CT May 7 at Wewahitchka Elementary School.