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Schools to be dazed by budget cuts again

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By Lee Helscel

As if $24.3 million in cuts for the Marion County School District weren’t enough, now Superintendent Ken Yancey is faced with hacking out an additional $27- to $33 million from next year’s budget. Part of the reason for another massive deficit apparently is that Marion is one of the few counties in Florida to avoid laying teachers off – and there are folks in Tallahassee who think it should be otherwise.

Without a quick infusion of federal money from the economic recovery bill that Congress is expected to approve, Mr. Yancey may have no alternative to layoffs for teachers and support staff. The Florida Legislature will meet in March and hammer out a reduced state budget for 2009-10, so nothing is carved in stone – yet.

To address the crisis and leave nothing to fall through the cracks, Yancey is conducting a series of town hall meetings at schools throughout the county. His power point presentation shows the cuts that were made to this year’s budget and what may have to be done to become even leaner – which includes the loss of 293 teachers.

But he is asking for suggestions from parents and looking for the priorities they put on what programs and services are most needed. He will be at West Port High School on Monday, Feb. 23, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Yancey is also asking residents to do a bit of political arm-twisting. His is but one voice in the halls of the state capitol – the voters of Marion County are many.

In part, he would like education funding to return to pre-lottery days; 60 percent of the state budget,  not the current 51 percent. Eliminate sales tax exemptions, tax Internet purchases, and increase gaming, tobacco and alcohol taxes. Restore school district capital budgets to 2007-08 levels and hold off expanding educational mandates and new requirements.

Here are the Florida legislative ears you may want to bend.

Gov. Charlie Crist

The Capitol

400 S. Monroe St.

Tallahassee, FL 32399-001

850-488-5152

Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com

District 22 Rep. Larry Cretul

6911 S.W. Hwy. 200, Bldg. 1

Ocala, Fl 34476

873-6564

Larry.Cretul@myfloridahouse.gov

District 24 Rep. Kurt Kelly

315 S.E. 25th Ave.

Ocala, FL 34471-9179

732-1313

KurtKelly@myfloridahouse.gov

District Sen. Charles Dean

415 Tompkins St.

Inverness, FL 34450

352-860-5175

866-538-2831

dean.charles.web@flsenate.gov

Without an infusion of cash, kids who live less than two miles from school may be walking, arts and music teachers who still have jobs may be riding circuit between elementary schools, and the county may have to close a few schools. Legislators are also considering a state statute mandating a 4-day school week.

Times are hard and difficult decisions are being made. Marion County’s Superintendent of Schools has a list of possible staff and service cuts to satisfy budget constraints, but he’s open to suggestion. If you have a better idea, he wants it – and send the message to Tallahassee.