Schools budget takes $39 million hit
The School Board adopted a final budget, opposed religious-school funding and expanded its virtual learning.
Following a Tuesday, Sept. 11, presentation by Deputy Superintendent Robert Moll, the Volusia County School Board approved a total district operating budget of $766.5 million for the 2013 fiscal year. The budget is down about $39 million from last year and $112 million from fiscal year 2011.
“(This budget) represents the continuing trend of overall revenue losses,” Moll wrote to the board prior to the meeting. “(And) for the sixth consecutive year, the district’s gross taxable value declined by another 1%.”
He said the loss was caused by the expiration of federal stabilization, stimulus and EduJob funds, and added that, in an effort to lessen the shortfall, about 250 school jobs were cut over the summer, mitigating a total of $13.5 million.
The final millage rate adopted by the board was set at 7.888 mills, or about $7.89 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The millage is down .175 from last year’s rate of 8.063.
Lankford on religious aid: ‘When in doubt, leave it out’
The School Board also unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday opposing Amendment 8, which would allow religious schools to qualify for federal funding.
School Board member Candace Lankford, a noted Catholic, said: “This (Amendment) would, in essence, fund two separate but not equal education systems — one that is very accountable … and another one that would not have that same kind of accountability in place.”
Lankford was speaking of public compared to religious schools, and she wasn’t alone in opposing the possibility of sharing tax dollars now reserved only for public institutions.
“It’s difficult to define what is a valid religion,” board Vice-Chairwoman and Ormond Beach representative Judy Conte said. “To the degree that you can’t do that, we (could) end up funding things that I think some of us would certainly be uncomfortable with … You know, wiccans have a religion.”
She also cited the tax breaks religious schools located on church properties already receive.
“This is a Religious Funding Amendment — it’s a misnomer to call it a Religious Freedom Amendment,” Lankford added. “It opens the door for vouchers for everyone. ... This is opening up Pandora’s box.”
Virtual learning expands scope
The district’s online learning platform, Volusia Virtual School, is becoming “future-proofed,” according to Melissa Carr, county coordinator of online learning.
Carr told the board that, in the past two months, the virtual schools has taken eight other learning platforms under its umbrella (including eLearning East and West, Hospital Homebound programs and Halifax Behavioral services).
“The vision of what we’re trying to impress is that … students, through online learning, can learn anytime, anywhere,” Carr said. “Children get quality education from quality teachers.”
Since last year, virtual learning in the district has gone from four to 12 teachers, 85 to 125 full-time students and 1,161 to 1,830 total students. The program’s completion rate last year was 92%.