Lender and Government Foreclosures Down Florida Schools

by Peter Vernon on States

The continued rise in Florida foreclosures has affected schools throughout the state, similarly to how lender and government foreclosures have affected schools in other areas of the country.

Because lender and government foreclosures have reduced real estate prices, revenue from real estate taxes have drastically fallen. More than 50 percent of school districts across the U.S. depend on local real estate tax revenues for over 25 percent of their budgets.

In Saint Lucie, schools now lack funds to pay teachers and other staff because the district has lost about $22 million in revenue from real estate taxes. Superintendent Mike Lannon has started cutting down on some activities such as summer school, after school programs and some athletics. He has shortened the workweek of central office employees to four days and has frozen salary increases.

At Forest Grove Middle School where teachers and students have created a marine biology lab with a half-million dollar funding, students have been studying cheaper species in cold water to cut costs.

Bill Montford, head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said there are already several school districts in the state that are almost in financial collapse not because of management failure but because of continued lender and government foreclosures that have pushed down real estate valuation and taxes.

Montford said funding prospects for schools across Florida are gloomy since about 41 percent of education expenses are funded by the state. Because of Florida foreclosures, the state has projected a shortfall of $5 billion in 2010.

Several school districts have started eliminating jobs because the money has stopped coming. Volusia County, near Saint Lucie, has already cut 1,000 jobs in just two years. Saint Lucie’s superintendent Lannon, who has been in education management for 41 years, is expecting a 25-percent cut in his budget of $262 million in 2010.

Obama’s program to avert further lender and government foreclosures has allocated some money for education. This probably encouraged Florida superintendents to write and ask for financial help from what remains from the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Plan.

Lender and government foreclosures in Saint Lucie have risen to its highest level. In 2008, it had 10,764 housing units in foreclosure, an increase of 8.6 percent from the previous year. Unemployment has also risen, prompting a county official to propose a declaration of an emergency status so that the county could access money reserved for natural disasters.

In Florida, school districts are required to balance their budgets every year. Increasingly, they have been balancing their budgets directly using money from taxpayers. Ten years ago, the state government accounted for about half of education funding and local taxpayers provided about 42 percent. Two years ago, as lender and government foreclosures battered the state, the sharing pattern has changed, with the state sharing only 41 percent of education funding and school districts giving almost 51 percent.