Facing increased competition for students from charter schools and a $56 million capital budget shortfall, the Palm Beach County School District has no choice but to start thinking more like a private business, members of the volunteer Budget Advisory Committee told district staff Friday.
The committee began the laborious task of figuring out how to slash a capital budget — one that pays for items such as buildings, computers, maintenance and other equipment — the district claims contains only its “basic needs.”
“This is the first time we’ll bring forward a capital budget that won’t fully meet the needs of students in Palm Beach County,” district treasurer Leanne Evans told committee members.
Almost immediately, the panel began to question some of the district’s construction projects, asking whether parts or all of them were necessary.
Committee chairman Ed Tancer suggested the district look at the areas charter schools are targeting to help decide on its budget needs.
“What the Legislature has done by setting up charter schools is they have created competition for school districts in Florida,” Tancer said. He gave the example of Publix Super Markets watching market trends and scouting out future locations of Whole Foods and other competitors to decide on business plans.
“Our school district and other school districts recognize now that we are competing. We have to think more like private businesses,” Tancer said.
The committee also questioned spending money to improve schools that are under-capacity, such as the projects under way to redo Rosenwald and Glade View elementary schools in Belle Glade. District staff said the school board chose to pay for those projects to ensure that old schools were able to stay on par with newer schools being built.
As the committee began seeing a line-by-line review of some department budgets, it continued to question expenditures. It asked one department leader whether he needed his own secretary or could share one with another department.
But equally clear as the committee dug into the budget was that renovations and even some basic upkeep of district schools could be cut if the district cannot find more money.
“As we go through the process, we’re going to see things that are going to be painful to live without,” Chief Operating Officer Mike Burke told the committee.
One possible solution would be to raise more revenue through a referendum. School board members discussed the idea briefly this year, and the Budget Advisory Committee also briefly broached the possibility at Friday’s meeting, but no plan has yet been made to go to the voters with capital budget woes.