BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The numbers:
43 Bay County schools (including charter schools) damaged,
3,679 students gone,
228 employees gone,
$250 million short on damage repair,
3 schools closed,
... and a possible mass layoff.
Those numbers are from Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt Thursday afternoon at a press conference. The focus of the conference was to talk about Bay District Schools' financial situation.
Superintendent Husfelt spoke about having to freeze hiring and canceling purchase orders just to make ends meet. He said due to the need of funding, a mass layoff is also possible. In a letter he sent to employees shortly before the conference, Superintendent Husfelt said, "Without an additional $24.8 million in funding for next school year (to hold us harmless for the temporary loss of students), we are looking at having to take DRASTIC measures such as a district-wide reduction in force that could eliminate close to 600 jobs."
The full email is on the bottom of this story. A break down of BDS's funding impacts and needs is attached to this article under related items.
School Board Chairman Steve Moss emphasized the need for funding isn't for repairs to schools, it's for the most basic operation needs such as payroll, electric bills, and gas for buses.
The Superintendent did get emotional as he broke down the numbers and what it would mean for employees and students of Bay District Schools. He spoke about "Mrs. Smith," a third-grade teacher who has a family she's taking care of and trying to repair her home and what this would mean to a person like her.
"I don't have a lot of hope that DC will all of a sudden realize how much we need them, but I do have hope Tallahassee will save the day," Superintendent Husfelt said.
Florida Senate Bill 520, if passed, would give some relief to school districts impacted by Hurricane Michael by not taking money from these school districts due to enrollment changes.
Letter from Superintendent Husfelt:
Respectfully, I wanted you to know that our press conference today at 2:00 p.m. will be recorded and sent to you in its entirety. We had to take advantage of the best time to gather the media outlets to make sure we would have the greatest impact, but regret that this time slot precludes your attendance.
You may hear some disturbing information on the news tonight and I want to make sure you hear it first, from me, as accurately as possible.
Despite all of my favorable feedback in the beginning, it seems our request for additional funding from the state AND federal governments for next school year (based upon our pre-storm enrollment) is going nowhere. I am extremely frustrated at the lack of "buy in" from state and federal legislators from both parties and I'm desperately now calling for the Governor to simply intervene on our behalf. Please note, however, that Representative Trumbull, Senator Gainer and Congressman Dunn have done, and continue to do, all they can... it's just not up to them and they can't do it by themselves.
Bay County is a strong, proud community and there's not another group of people more willing to "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" than those who call our community home. However, we have got to have some additional help in the form of funding for the recovery of our schools because, without it, the future does not look nearly as bright as I once thought it did.
This isn't about money for trees or debris removal (although both are very important), it's about funding for people, for our way of life, for the ability to take care of our storm-traumatized children and adults the way that we should. A strong educational system is critical to any community and we need legislators to fully fund our schools, and the recovery of our entire community, if we're truly going to bounce back from this storm better than we were before. We are an economic driver in this community and our success becomes everyone’s success.
Without an additional $24.8 million in funding for next school year (to hold us harmless for the temporary loss of students), we are looking at having to take DRASTIC measures such as a district-wide reduction in force that could eliminate close to 600 jobs. In total, we are looking at an immediate shortfall of $12.4 million for this year and then $24.8 million for next year. There’s a bill pending that includes the $12.4 million currently BUT there’s nothing that we can see that addresses the $24.8 million desperately needed for next school year.
We are currently Bay County's largest employer and that responsibility is not lost on us. A lot of families depend upon us for employment, for the money to take care of their families and for the funds to continue their recovery process. If we have to lay off 600 employees, the impact will be felt far and wide in our community and it will not help recovery. Our children have already suffered so much loss as a result of the storm. Losing teachers they love, and who love them, along with administrators and support staff upon whom they count will be yet another devastating blow to our youngest citizens.
The staggering number of students who have recently been Baker Acted is a very sad illustration of the true impact of this storm. In the past 25 school days, 44 students have been Baker Acted for their own safety and wellbeing. We are doing all we can to support our students, and employees, but it’s obvious that what we’re doing isn’t enough. And that’s why we’ve got to get some assistance. We have asked both state and federal legislators for more money for mental health resources but, to date, have not received what we need.
I wish I had better news. I wish I could tell you that our needs, and the needs of our people, were on the forefront of the minds of those called to make decisions on our behalf in Tallahassee and Washington. The truth is, however, that we appear to have been forgotten by most and our children and our families are not a priority for those who have the ability to give us what we need to recover from this devastation. Representative Trumbull, Senator Gainer and Congressman Dunn have worked tirelessly on our behalf but they need our support and assistance.
Given our dire situation, and the fact that we are trying to save jobs and salaries, we have instituted a district-wide spending freeze. Only essential purchases may be approved and all of those must be approved by a cost center manager. All other spending is frozen and this includes typical year-end closing of funds and budgets. It saddens me to have to take these measures but, unless something changes, we're in trouble financially as a result of the far-reaching impact of Hurricane Michael and we are going to struggle to recover by ourselves.
I’ve been told that our state government has almost $6 BILLION in a “rainy day” fund. If this isn’t a “rainy day” then I just really don’t know what is. We need funding assistance and it appears that funding exists and I can’t for the life of me understand why those who can make the choice to help us won’t or can’t do so.
Many people have asked me what they can do to help and the truth is that nothing short of intervention by Governor DeSantis (and/or action in Washington, D.C.) is going to help us at this point. I implore you to contact the legislators highlighted on the attachment to this email to let them know how you feel and what you’d like them to do for us. You'll also find attached a one-page fact sheet that outlines the crux of the funding issue and what we need to fix it.
We've been #850Strong since the beginning of this storm and I have been so proud of the resiliency of our students, teachers, administrators and support staff and, really, our entire community. We have worked together like never before to restore, recover and rebuild but we need help. I don't think for one second that money can fix everything that has happened to us but without the right funds being channeled towards our needs, our recovery process will be slower and even more painful than it has to be. We need our school system to be fully funded for the next school year to keep the stability in our community and we need your help to make that happen!