The Palm Beach County School Board today waded into next year’s budget with a litany of wishes but also a warning that, despite a multi-million increase in funding, finances are still tight.
“Things are looking a little better,” district budget director Shirley Knox told board members during a budget presentation.
District staff told the board that the economic outlook is not nearly as grim as in recent years, with property values estimated to rise slightly.
Knox also noted that Gov. Rick Scott has made funding education one of his top two priorities this legislative session, saying that, under his proposed budget, Palm Beach County would see a $93.1 million increase in funding — which includes money for Scott’s much-publicized plan to give every teacher a $2,500 raise.
Still, Knox warned, the state budget process is in the beginning phases. Plus, the district is facing an anticipated $56 million capital budget shortfall, and has a number of operating budget needs, such as paying an additional $3 million for new reading materials and enhancing security at schools.
“I was hoping we would be facing the flip side of what we had two years ago,” school board member Jenny Prior Brown said, adding that she had hoped to be tasked with, instead of finding cuts, deciding on how to spend “tens of millions of dollars. That looks like that’s not the case, which is too bad.”
Several board members expressed interest in having a “big-picture” discussion of the district’s priorities and where funding should be prioritized. Board members also tasked their volunteer citizen Budget Advisory Committee to continue to look for efficiencies to reduce wasteful spending.
And they sent along their own wishes, as well.
“We need more guidance counselors,” said board member Frank Barbieri. “We need somebody in the school the child knows and can talk to. … We need somebody the child can turn to, and that’s the guidance counselors.”
Barbieri also pressed to have a police officer in every school, a proposal that the district has previously said would cost an additional $6.6 million.
Meanwhile, board member Karen Brill brought back the idea of having the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office take over the district’s school police force. The board has discussed bringing in the sheriff’s office several times over the years, but any proposals for mergers haven’t tended to make it far.
“I think we need to be open-minded about it and look at the bigger picture,” Brill said. “We have to look at this whole budget process realistically.”