Tuesday, January 22, 2013

School Board Hears Budget Options; Votes on Teacher Contract

VIERA, Florida - Even though the Brevard Public School board decided Tuesday night to delay a vote on school closures until February 12, the board still heard public comment on the potential closures and discussed ways and heard reports on how to lower debt and where to cut the budget.
Judy Preston, Associate Superintendent of Financial Services, noted that there are options to refinance portions of the district’s debt.  The total outstanding debt is $512 million.
“We will not be asking the board to vote tonight,” Preston said. “We don’t expect rates to go up immediately, but we are keeping an eye on that.”
Mitch Owens with RBC Capital Markets (RBC) presented a review of current economic conditions along with an update on the treasury and debt markets.  He said that BPS could save nearly $5 million by refunding about $81 million their debt.
BPS Superintendant Brian Binggeli said that if the refinancing occurs, the district should use “the prioritized list we have and move $2.3 million each year off the cut list.”
BPS says $30.7 million in cuts are necessary to meet a shortfall in the capital improvement budget.  A referendum that would have increased the local sales tax to offset the budget deficiencies lost in the November 2012 election by a 52-48% margin.
Binggeli said that using the current list would eliminate 12 items from the potential budget cuts.  These include saving 37 staff positions and 11 secondary campus monitor jobs plus recover dual enrollment guidance counselors.
“We are trying to find opportunities for you to re-finance your debt,” Owens said.  Owens was complimentary to the board regarding their previous moves prior to discussions of refinancing.  He noted that the move to a balanced budget and the sales tax proposal that was on the ballot last November were decisions that the credit agencies favored.
Owens noted that BPS has no variable debt, “which is a positive thing.”
He also said that there are three major considerations for refunding debt: interest rates, credit rating, and the call date of bonds.  Owens said that since interest rates “are almost at an all-time low,” BPS has a AA rating, and the call date for the bonds is not until July 2015, “all of these are favorable for current and advanced refunding.”
A copy of Owens’ presentation will be available on the BPS website, according to Michelle Irwin of BPS District Communications.
Hundreds of affected parents and students filled the Educational Services Facility boardroom to protest the four school closures.  Many of the same arguments were spoken during public comment that had been said to the school board in previous meetings.
In addition however, at this meeting, several elected officials including mayors and county commissioners spoke in favor of keeping schools open and questioned the criteria the school board uses to close schools.
“The (school) board philosophically should have made an effort to find ways to make this work,” District 2 County Commissioner Chuck Nelson said.  “Along with women and children, schools should be a priority.  Make it your mission not to close schools.  How do you want to be remembered?”
Nelson said he was “the poster child for school closures” as three of the potential closures affect citizens in his district, which is in central Brevard County.
Robin Fisher, District 1 county commissioner, challenged “just one” school board member “to step up and show some leadership.”  Fisher said he believed that two school board members are ready to vote to keep the schools off of the cut list.
Two contracts (2012-2013 and 2013-2014) between BPS and the Brevard Federation of Teachers were unanimously ratified that will give teachers raises and give secondary principals the flexibility to require that teachers have only one planning period during the school day.  BPS says this will save $11 million.
Richard Smith, the president of BPS, said that 68% of teachers approved the contract with a 75% turnout.  “There’s no happiness in this contract,” Smith said.  “The problem lies with our legislators.”
Board member Andy Ziegler raised an issue in the contract regarding weapons.  The contact says that no teacher should be allowed to carry a weapon.  Ziegler noted that “it would be a shame” if a retired police officer with proper permits who might become a teacher would not be allowed to carry a firearm.
Ziegler noted that this objection would not keep him from voting to ratify. 

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