Polk County School Board Has Reasonable Budget Discussion

It was nice to see in The Ledger today that members of the Polk County School Board are considering cutting their own salaries to help offset the budget crisis they are trying to work through.

According to Merissa Green’s article – which was very straightforward and informative – the board will decide at the May 10 meeting how much to give back. It’s apparently a decision left up to each individual board member, so I hope we’ll get a clear picture of just how much each person is willing to give back when they do make their decision.

I’m not a big fan of a proposal that has been floated by the Governor’s office to take away school board salaries entirely. I think it’s a needed incentive to encourage many people to run for office. But as Frank O’Reilly mentioned in the story, all of the current board members have a secondary income, so for them it’s really a no-brainer to make this decision.

I don’t want to give the board members TOO much credit for that reason, because this really shouldn’t be a hard thing for them to decide to do. But they do get some credit for stepping up to the plate.

Merissa also included some good figures on other things the district is considering in preparing to make cuts, emphasizing that teachers are not on the chopping block. Two specific examples of cuts are not replacing the retiring Bruce Tonjes, assistant superintendent who is making $152,800, and losing the district position of teen parent coordinator, which currently has a salary of $92,330.

There are still going to be painful cuts, and Superintendent Sherrie Nickell said they are projecting having to find $17 million in savings. But as the story and Nickell pointed out, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed cuts that would take $32 million away from the county.

That would throw everything for a loop, and hopefully won’t happen. Ideally, Gov. Scott is putting out inflated numbers to try to get the House and Senate to make bigger reductions in spending than they would have otherwise, and he’ll still sign their budget into law even if it doesn’t cut as sharply as he has proposed.

We’ll all have a clearer idea soon.

By the way, I really appreciated this quote from board member Debra Wright, regarding the decision to spare the classroom, and teachers, from cuts as much as possible.

“Without that classroom being effective, there’s no purpose for any of us,” she said. “I think in these tough economic times, everybody needs to put in.”

Amen to that.

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