Florida lawmakers added more than a billion dollars to the state’s education budget this year and that money has now trickled down to school districts.
Leon County’s share amounts to an additional $12 million. in the district’s preliminary budget, most of the money, about $5.5 million will fund pay raises for Leon County teachers. The district’s Assistant Superintendent Barbara Wills says negotiations are still ongoing over how the raises will be distributed,
“It was the superintendent and the board’s goal to get it to them in September," she said. "But it completely depends on when they can sign an agreement.”
While the bulk of the money is going to raises, another $2.3 million will help pay for staff retirement benefits. Another $500,000 pays for increases in health insurance costs. Naomi Caughlin, the district’s budget director, says once all of the district’s immediate needs are met, there’s still a little bit left over:
“That’s leaves about $2 million dollars. That’s just reallocated to any additional expenses. For the most part, we have some of that left this point in time.”
One area of the budget Wills says she’d like to see more money for is called “instructional”, which she says encompasses a wide range of things, like, "teacher preparation and instruction for the forthcoming evaluations and assessments," Wills said. "That may be training, it may be materials, it may be software to do diagnostics...we need to do everything possible to make sure our students are prepared.”
The state has set a 2016 deadline for schools to be doing more computer-based learning. That and new standardized tests slated to come into use mean students need more computers, tablets and online textbooks. But many districts, including Leon, are struggling to pay for the necessary infrastructure. All told, the district is slated to spend about $281 million dollars this academic year. That's roughly the same as last year.
While the state’s contribution has increased, Leon County Schools are collecting less in property tax revenue due to the legislature changing the tax formula. Administrators are also still waiting for decisions of dozens of federal grants that could either win them -- or cost them -- money.