The Palm Beach County School District plans to cut only teachers – and only teachers- if the school property tax increase is voted down. No administrators would lose their jobs and vendors who supply the district will continue reaping millions.
The district has been “informing” the public about the upcoming vote. Most recently this was manifested in an e-mail sent this afternoon. One of the most prominent claims in the e-mail is that the measure will “continue funding for 650 teachers in Art, Music, PE, Choice and Career [sic].” We calculate that if 650 teachers cost the district on average approximately $76,000 a year (including salary, benefits and expenses), that adds up to the full $50 million the district says it will have to cut from the budget.
The “650 teachers” number is used frequently in district communications.
It’s not the first time the 650 reference has been made. It is a central part of the message the district has been pushing on the ballot question. It appears in a pdf document that indicates it was created in late August, and on other similar documents on the district’s page about the referendum.
Again and again they mention the 650 teachers:
The use of this language strongly suggests that if the measure does not pass, 650 teachers in those areas will be laid off. We personally have heard school district employees say exactly that. Of course there’s no indication in any of the district’s “information” regarding the potential loss of any administrator jobs. This fits with longstanding local, state and federal education policies that we refer to as “No Administrator Left Behind.” Teachers get no raises. The air conditioning doesn’t work. But don’t worry folks – we’ve got plenty of well paid administrators. See for example Andrew Marra’s recent Palm Beach Post article: The number of PBC school execs making $140K has nearly tripled in 2 years.
We decided to ask the school board members from West Boca and district officials to explain where the 650 number comes from. So far we have not gotten a straightforward answer.
School board member Karen Brill responded quickly and more thoroughly than anyone else so far. We thank her for that. She opened with the following:
It’s interesting that you are asking this because in our Board discussion regarding the Referendum, I asked our CFO what the contingency plan is if the Referendum fails. I was told there is no contingency plan. That does concern me.
Brill also addressed our specific questions:
Q: If the property tax measure fails, will you vote to cut 650 art, music, pe, choice and career teacher positions?
A: No. Art, Music, PE, Choice and Career Programs are essential components of our District’s offerings. These are the programs that motivate our children, enhance their education and make for higher levels of learning.
Q: Have you considered alternatives such as reducing administrator pay and eliminating administrative positions?
A: Absolutely. It is will be essential that we will have to look at every possible alternative in order to maintain the funding for the teaching positions you outlined above.
Q: What will you do if the vote fails?
A: First, you should know that there will not be an impact in this school year. The first thing we would need to do is convene a Board Workshop to discuss staff’s and the Board’s recommendations of areas where consolidation and cost reductions can be made. Obviously we would have to begin addressing the situation immediately.
Brill closed with the following:
In addition to the above, my comment is that it is regrettable that those at the state level do not believe that funding public education is a priority. We are now 44th in the nation on the amount the state funds to educate our students. That’s deplorable! Recruitment and retention of teachers at the salaries Districts are forced to pay is extremely difficult. In addition, changes in our world have necessitated changes in the physical structure of our schools to enhance school safety. An area of particular need is the hiring of additional mental health professionals. Whatever the outcome of the Referendum vote, we all need to work together for the benefit our children. Although cliché, it truly does take a village.
School board member Frank Barbieri also responded quickly but briefly:
If the tax levy fails, I’ll ask (and I believe the other Board Members will ask) the Superintendent to provide the School Board with all available options so that we can make an informed decision as to how we should proceed.
We’re not terribly thrilled with that answer. The administrators are unlikely to include cutting their own pay and jobs as one of the options.
We also e-mailed Superintendent Fennoy and COO Wanda Paul, with similar questions to the ones Brill answered. We did not get a direct response from Fennoy or Paul, but rather got an anonymous response from the district media staff:
Superintendent Fennoy and COO Paul,
Does the school district have a plan to cut 650 teachers from art, music, pe, careers, and choice programs if the ballot question fails?
Where did the 650 number come from?
Has the district considered other alternatives such as lowering administrator pay or cutting administrator positions? Any other alternatives?
And the anonymous response:
The District has a current .25 mil approved by voters that funds the salaries of 650 arts, career, pe, and health teachers. It is due for renewal this November – the District is asking for a full 1 mill this November.
Should the referendum not pass in November, the District will have to cut $50 million, the amount currently funded by voters, from its budget. This is an extensive amount of money that would have to include deep cuts at the district and school level. Since 70% of the District’s budget is in manpower, there would undoubtedly be cuts of positions at all levels, from support positions, to teachers, to administrators.
This will have a negative impact on our ability to serve students and compensate our employees. Hundreds of jobs will be eliminated and remaining employees may be subject to unpaid furloughs as we work to balance the budget. There will be no prospect of employee raises for teachers or any other employee group in the foreseeable future if the District is forced to make these draconian budget cuts.
It is telling that the response does not in any way explain the 650 number they keep repeating. And it does not limit the potential cuts to the specific ones mentioned in the political messaging we’re all paying for.
“There would undoubtedly be cuts of positions at all levels, from support positions, to teachers, to administrators.”
That is very different. But we think we’ve figured it out. The district’s answer references a $50 million cut. As described above cutting 650 teachers would add up to $50 million. So the district’s numbers indicate they plan to cut only teachers. However, if the response we received today is accurate, the repeated message about funding for 650 teachers is a lie. The district has a history of lying to the public in order to win a tax increase, and the board follows by giving pay raises to the liars despite ongoing failures to fix simple things like air conditioning.
It is also interesting to note the political decision made by the district staff and school board. Facing the expiration of the .25 mill tax, they decided to reach for a full 1 mill, a 400% tax increase. An alternative strategy might have been one measure to renew the existing .25 mill tax along with a second measure to add on another .75 mill tax.
The increase will cost the typical West Boca homeowner roughly $400 per year. The actual increase will depend on the home’s appraised value.
Residents should be reassured by the other e-mail we received from the district today. The important work of our administrators will go forward no matter what:
Perhaps some of our readers thought the purpose of our schools was to educate children. Nope. It’s to help vendors build multi-million dollar companies and keep administrators employed and well paid.