Gulf County Faces Loss of Students

Last month, the Gulf County School Board was forced to make some tough decisions to incorporate a smaller school budget.

¶Gulf County Superintendent Jim Norton says, "At the end of the day i think we only ended up with two reduction of force that were implemented. And there were other cuts and other things we did to balance our budget such as privatization of our custodial staff which meant nearly a hundred thousand dollars of savings."

It's a trend the county's been struggling with for quite some time.

But now the county is being forced to recalculate again, this time because of shrinking enrollment numbers.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Duane McFarland says, "We're predicting one thousand eight hundred fifty two students. Last year we were at 1876."

Norton adds, "You know Wewahitchka High School alone lost 50 students last year."

According to the Florida Education Finance Program, Gulf County receives 32 hundred dollars per head from the state.

The loss of 50 students also means the loss of 160 thousand dollars, but this isn't a new problem to gulf county.

In fact, since 1997 when the paper mill shut down, the county of 15 thousand residents has seen the loss of 400 students.

Multiply that by 16 years and you can see Gulf County has lost over 20 million dollars in state money.

McFarland says, "Our enrollment has slightly gone down over the years and that pace is continued."

But superintendent Norton says he's hoping after this year, things will change for the better.

Norton says, "We are in the seventh year of declining revenues to the district. But we think we're in the final year. We've made some tough calls."

Superintendent Norton also mentioned Port St. Joe may have received 25 new students, which will also help in receiving money from the state this coming year.

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