While the School Board approved a new district salary structure for support staff that complies with a law requiring all state employees to be paid a minimum of $15 an hour by Oct. 1, the board was not happy with how the law will affect the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club.
The club, which the School District operates, was already projected to be $169,000 in the red in 2022-23. Now, the district has been informed that part-time staff, including lifeguards, gym attendants and an office aide, will also have to be paid $15 an hour.
The budget had been accounting for an $11 minimum wage for this year. The bump will cost the district $17,095 for the school year, increasing the projected deficit for the club to $186,905, Joshua Walker, the district's coordinator for community services, told the board at an afternoon workshop on Sept. 20.
To offset part of the added expense, Walker proposed a revised fee increase for club members to $47 a month with an annual membership fee of $300. A seasonal pass would be bumped up to $120.
At its monthly business meeting later that evening, the board was to decide whether to raise the fees according to a previous proposal of $40 for a monthly membership and $250 for an annual membership. With Colleen Conklin absent, the board approved the revised fee schedule 3-1 with Janet McDonald voting against it.
McDonald and Jill Woolbright took the opportunity to strongly suggest that it is time to cut ties with the club, which provides a pool for the Flagler Palm Coast High School and Flagler Fluid swim teams.
"We're just slowly sinking the ship, and we're still going to lose money even with (the revised fee plan)."
— JILL WOOLBRIGHT
"We continue to go in the hole with the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club," Woolbright said. "The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club is once again going to be in the red, and it cannot be paid out of student funds, so it's going to be paid out of the fees that extended day programs for the five elementary schools receive. Theoretically, those funds should go back to the elementary schools. ... We're just slowly sinking the ship, and we're still going to lose money even with (the revised fee plan)."
The pool, she said, is aging and will require repairs in the future.
"I think there needs to be some hard decisions going forward," she said.
Cheryl Massaro said she agreed with Woolbright's points but holds a more optimistic view. She would like to give the club's advisory committee, which has presented an interlocal agreement to the district, city and county to share with the committee in providing funds to keep the club's pool and gym open.
"I think we should give them an opportunity because I believe they have the energy and optimism to make it work at no loss," she said.
District to take $6 million hit
Flagler Schools will take an estimated $6 million hit this year to fund Family Empowerment Scholarships, Finance Director Patty Wormeck reported to the board at the Sept. 20 workshop.
The scholarship program that began three years ago requires school districts to provide funding for families who opt to send their students to private schools.
The eligibility for the scholarship is based on family income at 375% of the poverty level, which is $99,375. The FES also provides a $750 transportation scholarship to an out of district public school. Home-schooled students can be eligible for the scholarships as well.
In 2021, the state legislation removed the requirement that scholarship recipients must have been previously enrolled in a public school. Last year, 515 Flagler County students received the scholarships. This year, an estimated 685 Flagler students will receive the scholarships, with an impact on the district of $6,042,970.
The scholarship amounts vary per student, which makes tracking the annual impact on the district difficult, Wormeck said.
While state unrestricted funding has increased by $6.1 million this year, "$6 million goes right out the door to these scholarships," Wormeck said. “When you take that into account with the other items out of our control, which is the (Florida Retirement System) estimates and the increase (for all employees to earn at least $15 an hour by Oct. 1), which was unfunded ... we are close to $2 million in the hole just starting this year."
Massaro said the Department of Education is putting public education at high risk.
"We're on a bubble. I think we'll be fine. However, our larger school systems are in serious economic trouble," she said.