Volusia County School Board discusses funding

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Volusia County School Board discusses funding

Connor Darby

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During the the public participation portion of the Volusia County School Board meeting on Tuesday, March 26, an impassioned parent expressed her anger with alleged gang members supposedly intermingling with ESE students on high schools campuses on the western side of the county.

“You have documented, known gang members on the west Volusia High school campuses that are mingling with our special needs students, and you trespass a parent,” parent Joy Catrell said. “I want to know what you intend to do with my children, who obviously aren’t safe on Deltona High School’s campus, because the administration does not care.”

An experienced Extended Day Enrichment Program employee informed the School Board of difficulties with staffing in such programs during public participation as well.

“I operated my program for 87 children with two group leaders and myself and a sub,” Cindy Lynnhoff said. “And the main concern is the programs are so understaffed that I believe children are at risk. I just beg you to look at other ways to recruit,” Lynnholf said before being cut off by the three-minute timer.

There were two resolutions passed Tuesday, the first of which proclaims April 2019 as “Child Abuse Prevention Month.” Chairman Carl Persis expressed his sadness to hear that, on average, there have been 469 children removed from homes in Volusia County over the past five years after school social worker Crystal Eubanks’ short presentation on the topic.

“Every child has a right to a safe, healthy and happy childhood where they are educationally and developmentally on track,” Persis said, reading from the passed resolution.

The second resolution recognizes the week of April 8-12 as “SELebration Week.” SEL references social emotional learning.

“Social and emotional learning are essential skills for school, careers, and life,” SEL Specialist Justin Lipomi said. “This resolution is the first of its kind and Dr. [Amy] Hall and I are very excited that Volusia County Schools continues to be a pioneer in the field of social and emotional learning.”

During a Financial and Legislative Update presentation, Coordinator of Student and Government Affairs Dr. Amy Hall provided information regarding changes to the Bright Futures Scholarship program currently proposed in the Florida Senate. These changes would extend the time period in which a student must enroll in college from two years to five years, as well as alter the SAT and ACT test requirements. These testing requirements would change from the current ones to whatever score represents the 89th percentile each year.

“That could help our students and that could hurt our students depending on the previous population that took that test,” Hall said. “We do have some concerns when it comes to tracking that, because every time we have a change it requires to make sure that we are aware. And if it’s changing every single year it’s a moving target for our families, our students and for our school counselors.”

As the Financial and Legislative Update progressed, Chief Financial Officer Debra Muller presented the proposed Florida Senate and House budgets in regard to education to the School Board.

“The Senate budget is really much more generous than the House budget,” Muller said. “The House proposal would be our worst-case scenario, but it really is a bad scenario for our district… Our total FEFP [Florida Education Finance Program, the formula by which funds are allocated to school districts] would be just over five million dollars. It really is a bleak picture and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but again, us still being hopeful that we’ve just started this session and that things will change.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, school board member Linda Cuthbert expressed concerns regarding the pay of hourly employees of the Volusia County Schools.

“As the largest employer in Volusia County, we are helping the vicious circle of low pay,” Cuthbert said. “We’re not getting the funding to give decent raises and salaries. Look at the number of people we hire who are so vital the academic success and the safety and security of our students, but we can’t pay them because we’re not getting the discretionary funding to hire them. Is there a way that we can look at that to present that to our legislators to say, ‘You’re creating the problem and keeping us in a very tenuous situation where we can’t pay?’”

She concluded her thoughts by drawing a comparison between the pay of private employees at locations such as Publix Supermarkets and various restaurants, and the pay of front desk and paraprofessional employees of Volusia County Schools

“Look what Publix pays our teenagers and look what we have to pay our adults,” Cuthbert said. “There’s some way we can validate and let them know the precarious position we’re in. Because we’re one of the largest contributors to [the vicious cycle of low pay] that if we cant raise the salary of our workers we’re going to continue to get that lower DCD [district cost differential, used in FEFP calculations and is tied to the difference in county-by-county cost of living].”