Federal coronavirus relief dollars boost Volusia County’s schools budget, but in fiscal year 2026, when those dollars are no longer available, the district will need a new source of funding to cover the costs of working.
VCS is stretching an estimated $223.5 million in ESSER funds for the next two years, but if it wasn’t for those funds, Lisa Snead, district chief financial officer, said during a workshop with the school board on Tuesday, May 10, that they would face a financial problem – a financial condition ratio of -9.92%, the result of a budget deficit of $79.7 million.
“However, since we have the emergency relief funds and are using them to help with this scenario,” Snead said. “You can see that although we are only required to budget for one year, we are projecting outwards that we can position ourselves on how we should handle this and we will keep a close eye on what our inscription looks like.”
What are ESSER funds? Congress passed three stimulus bills in 2020 and 2021 that the National Conference of State Legislatures said provided nearly $190.5 billion to the emergency relief fund for elementary and secondary schools, which in turn provided coronavirus relief dollars to states for distribution to its school districts and other education bodies. Volusia’s share is $15.3 million in ESSER I funds, $64.1 million in ESSER II funds, and $144.1 million in ESSER III funds, according to the Florida Department of Education.
And while Volusia is receiving an estimated additional $39.5 million through Florida’s education funding program for the next fiscal year, the majority of those funds — $31.7 million — are to be allocated to the program. scholarships for family empowerment. With more than $14.8 million in FEFP funds earmarked for things like special university education, class sizes, and improving teacher salaries, the district will have an FEFP funding shortfall of just over of $7 million.
Despite this, thanks to the ESSER funds, the district has a balanced budget planned for the next year. School board president Ruben Colon said the ESSER funds were intended to help meet the needs of students due to learning loss due to the pandemic, and they are using them for that purpose.
“The needs are greater and the reality is that we have to spend money,” Colon said. “…I’m glad to hear that for the first time, as far as I can remember, there’s no talk of a deficit, and that’s a plus.”
Snead explained that the district could sustain itself through fiscal year 2025, a year after ESSER funds run out, but by fiscal year 2026, the district projects a budget shortfall of $53.3 million. . Indeed, ESSER dollars are used for recurring costs such as personnel, which represents more than 80% of overall expenditures in fiscal year 2023.
“Since the majority of our budget is made up of people, when we compensate our employees, it is a direct benefit to students, as we retain and retain quality people to provide an education for our students,” said Snead.
Some of the personnel expenses impacting next year’s budget include $7.7 million to add 24 schools to the in-house daycare program and $2.6 million to increase all employee salaries to $15 l time by October.
School board member Jamie Haynes said she wants to focus on staffing classrooms before all other positions. She recalls working in the district during the 2008 recession and seeing teachers with less than three years’ experience being fired, along with principals responsible for covering two schools, and said she didn’t want the district starts again.
“I don’t want anyone sitting here at [fiscal year] 26 and the bottom drops,” Haynes said. “We’re not financially and fiscally responsible if we don’t already have a plan.”
Colon agreed with Haynes.
“If we know that we have that many vacancies at some point, then at some point we have to say, ‘Which positions can meet the criteria for this position in the classroom?’ and determine if the district can or no without it,” Colon said.
Snead said her report was preliminary and she would return to the board in June with more numbers.