September 4, 2008
The September 4, 2008 Budget Adoption Hearing will be a day I remember for a very long time. September 4th was the day the Board of County Commissioners slammed the door hard on the citizens of Franklin County and made no bones about it. But before I get into that; I'd like to share with you some facts that will disturb you even more about Franklin County's school system.
1. Enrollment has continued to drop and our new 1,200 capacity, $55 million dollar school presently has only 893 students. And keep in mind, this is our only school.
2. Total Budget is $31 million dollars which also includes the capital portion.
3. Non-capital portion totals almost $16 million or $17,357 per student.
4. Franklin County is among the five lowest performing counties in the state in terms of FCATS. Both FCATS and graduation rates are trending down, not up. What's worse is that Florida is second from the bottom nationally in educational achievement. What does that say about Franklin County?
5. The school system has about 220 employees in total and about 100 teachers of all kinds and descriptions.
6. You may remember that there was a special referendum several months ago to transfer a half mill from the capital account to the operations account. The referendum passed and now provides an additional $1.5 million dollars to the system each year.
7. The School District has now rewarded the teachers (essentially all who voted in the low turnout election) with a 20% pay raise over the next three years! This will bring the average teacher salary to over $51,000 a year and many teacher salaries to over $68,000 a year. Always remember, that's for a nine month year and the system pays essentially all health and retirement benefits in full! And, by the way, the raises are not merit based but across the board.
8. This little school system (with but a single school) employs between 7-9 secretaries, 3 deans, a Principal, a Superintendent and myriad other positions. I can't hold back any longer. Can you say "jobs program?" Oh, and don't forget, there's the District staff on top of that!
9. None of the above figures include the Charter school in Apalachicola which is separate. I should also note that the Charter school continues to grow in size. What will happen when the Charter schools have more students than the Consolidated County School?
The school system will certainly be a CCFC priority next year.
Now, back to the main event.
Thursday night was good for one thing and one thing only…Validation. Validation that the BOCC cares little about taxpayers, but a lot about their power and position. It was like watching some Roman Praetorian forum. Between 100-125 members of the public came, they saw, and got summarily kicked in the gut by the four commissioners in attendance. It was ugly. For three hours, one after another person took the podium to ask for help in reducing spending and truth in advertising—what the budget was and where was it being paid from. We were lectured, ignored, misdirected and otherwise made to feel as if we were children, who did not understand what the grown-ups were saying.
The CCFC had nine citizens present nine different suggestions designed to reduce spending now and to allow a commensurate level of budget reduction. To say all were rejected out-of-hand would not be appropriate, since there was hardly a word spoken by the BOCC. The few comments that were made were flip, off hand and generally condescending or patronizing.
Over and over again, we heard Commissioners express impotence at making changes to the budget; that they had "no control" over constitutional officers and were not in the position to second guess department heads. No Commissioner expressed any real understanding of the budget to include Cash Carry Forward of $14.4 million or Reserves of almost $5 million. Commissioners also increased their own special reserve fund from under $1 million to $1.5 million. They had no response when queried on this or other measures.
Many citizens did not understand how the requested 10% budget cuts eventually morphed into a roughly 1% cut, but an overall increase of the total budget from $48.9 million last year to $49.8 million this year plainly demonstrates the deception. It's clear as mud as I stated in a previous email to you.
You have to ask yourself the question "Who is in charge?" The BOCC has abdicated that responsibility to a cabal of special interests groups, most notably the employees. There is no where else to go with this. Roughly 208 employees work for the County directly and another 85 or so work for the hospital, that's where the vast bulk of the money goes. Job one for the County is protecting employees, not services.
At the end of the day, the BOCC voted 3-1 (Russell Crofton against) in favor of the budget. A member of the audience expressed their frustration after the vote by saying to the BOCC, "In other words, this audience has wasted their time tonight." Amen.
So where do we go from here? We had to go through the process of laying out a proper course of action. We have been rebuffed. We will return to legal action as our next step. The last year plus has allowed the CCFC to build up a war chest of information and charges that need a public airing. We will do so.
Please renew your CCFC membership ASAP if you have not done so already. We'll need a lot more money to move forward on your behalf. Any dues payment of $25 or more is appreciated, but, voting membership is at least $100. Just send in what you can, I promise we won't squander it! The address for sending in your dues is below.
Allan J. Feifer
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O. Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328
"The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. serves as a citizens' advocate to ensure that our Franklin County governments are more open, affordable, efficient, and responsive to our citizens. The organization seeks to hold public officials accountable for their actions in the administration of their duties and in their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers."