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Are layoffs coming?

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By Kellie Parkin

In the wake of mid-year projected budget cuts of $1.9 million, the School Board of Levy County needs to lay off 50 employees, according to Director of Finance Robert Clemons.

“We should have reduced our staff levels by at least 25 at the beginning of this school year,” Clemons wrote in a letter to the Board dated Nov. 26. “Now that half of the year is gone we need to reduce our staff levels by 50 to achieve the same results.”

Revised revenue projections show that the state of Florida is facing a $3.5 billion shortfall, up from the $1.8 billion forecasted in August by the Revenue Estimating Conference.

The district spends an average of $42,000 per employee, including salary and benefits. SBLC is a major employer in the county with more than 900 employees. Laying-off 50 people, about 5.5 percent of the SBLC workforce, would save approximately $1 million during the second half of the school year. The rest of the cuts would need to be made up in other ways or covered by the fund balance.

Typically, SBLC ends the fiscal year with $2 million dollars. “We like to have a fund balance of 4.5 to 5 percent,” Clemons said. Last year the ending fund balance was $2.4 million.

If no cut backs are made, the ending fund balance for this year could be $78,000 or less. “With a zero or very low fund balance it may necessitate we borrow money to open the new 2009-10 school year,” Clemons wrote. “Banks typically don’t want to lend you money if you need it. We have to be careful that we don’t put ourselves in a position that we have to borrow money to open the schools next year,” Clemons explained.

“It’s the most difficult budget times that I’ve seen,” he said. Clemons has 15 years experience with the school board budget. Department of Education revenue projections are even worse for next year.

“This is painfully bad news,” said board member Paige Brookins.

SBLC originally budgeted $45.5 million dollars this school year. The state reduced funding by nearly $1 million earlier in the year. With the new cuts state funding will be reduced by a total of $1.9 million. Declining enrollment has also reduced the district’s budget by $261,257, according to district records.

“We will do all the things that we can do to save as many jobs as we can,” said Superintendent Bob Hastings. Hastings wants to protect the classrooms from budget cuts. “We will still focus on classrooms and where we least affect that environment,” he said. “The focus will be to maintain the integrity of the classrooms.”

Hastings said that he plans to form a committee this week to strategize the best ways for the district to cut back. Teachers, administrators, and district personnel are expected to make up the committee members.