Why Avossa calls PBC a ‘donor’ county to state’s ed budget

When Superintendent Robert Avossa rails about how little Florida invests in education, he often talks about Palm Beach County being a “donor” school district.

Read about his objections to the state’s proposed budget here. 

What does that mean and why does this keep coming up?

First to the why.

For all those transplants to our state, district leaders want you to know the school district’s per student budget isn’t determined locally as it might be up north.

The district is countywide and though Palm Beach County is property rich – it has lots of value that generates lots of tax dollars – the state is responsible for determining how a majority of the school tax will be levied and what that money will be spent on.

Photo by Andy Frame

The how.

When it comes to a district’s operational budget, lawmakers in Tallahassee decide the base amount school districts will get per student to cover costs from text books to transportation, salaries and benefits, light bills and more. And from there it adds to that base for students who are disabled, or in exceptional poverty.

It also has a formula that is intended to deliver equity throughout the state’s counties – some very rural and property poor, and others not so much.

It does this by redistributing most of Florida school districts’ property tax revenue.

This is where the “donor” part comes in.

So, the state looks at Palm Beach County and says because the county can raise so much tax money locally, a larger portion of the money spent per student will come from local taxes. A smaller amount will come from the state.

A property-poor county, on the other hand would get more from the state.

Thus, the county is paying in more to the total  – but it is still being held to the state prescribed formula. Just because Palm Beach County has a larger wealth of property value, doesn’t mean it gets to spend more per student in its classrooms.

The county will get more per student than other counties based on the last budget. One reason, the cost of living – thus the cost of hiring teachers and running schools – is higher in Palm Beach County and the state’s formula chips in a bit more for that. Also, the county gets a bump when it has more special education students, whose education costs more and therefore draws more money from the state formula.

To be clear, this equalization across the state is just the general fund.

Capital budget is a different ballgame.

All districts can impose a district-wide tax for capital and keep that money. There is a state cap – a cap that was lowered during the recession in 2008-09.  Which prompted the need to find another source for capital projects, mostly school repairs but some replacements and 5 new schools. In November, voters approved a penny sales tax countywide, half of which goes to those projects.

Final note. 

Property values can make Palm Beach County look like a wealthy place. But not all of its students are. About 65 percent of the district’s students come from families poor enough to qualify for a free or discounted lunch from the federal government.








Avossa sums up year’s successes, challenges for community leaders

With jokes about school buses being on time firmly in the rearview, Superintendent Robert Avossa was free to boast at this year’s State of the Schools address that 21 of the county’s schools picked up their D or F grades to a C or better, the graduation rate hit an all-time high just above 82 percent and his team has made changes to the way they work with schools to continue improvements.

That’s not to say the picture is all rosy.

Most daunting, at the state’s last calculation only 52 percent of the district’s third graders read on grade level. And the majority of those who don’t aren’t in failing schools, Avossa told the gathering of about 500 business and education leaders Thursday at a West Palm Beach luncheon sponsored by the Education Foundation, the school district and the Business Development Board.

(200 students were there too. See photos below)

That makes for a long road to Avossa’s goal that 75 percent of third graders read on level within the next five years.

“You’ll see we have a lot of ground to cover,” he told the room.

To do that, Avossa said the district is using a number of strategies. Among them, the district-wide use of iReady adaptive educational software that ideally adjusts based on a student’s knowledge, meeting them at their ability and challenging them to bring them up. (The approach hasn’t been without its critics, who have spoken at board meetings about both technical frustrations and philosophical disagreements.)

(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Avossa talked about helping teachers and administrators at the most struggling schools with some of the district’s top former principals, each given a small portfolio of campuses to advise and mentor.

Third grade is a critical year, when a child’s performance on the state language arts test means moving on to fourth grade or being held back. Rather than focusing the best teachers and biggest efforts at each school on third grade, Avossa said he wants to see those efforts spread over the earlier years from kindergarten to second grade.

Avossa also touched on programs that guide high schoolers who are poised to be the first in their families to attend college, another that connects mentors with struggling middle school students. His administration continues to seek ways to address the disproportionate number of minority students who are suspended.

When he wasn’t talking about students, Avossa was talking about the teachers and other district employees who make change possible. He talked about the pay raises approved this year, including one that brought up the pay of 1,300 of the district’s lowest earners with an hourly income of $8 and change.

He noted that starting teacher salary in the district is up to $41,000, which is competitive, but the scales becomes stagnant leaving teachers with seven to 10 years out with not much more than their freshmen colleagues.

Before leaving the stage, Avossa asked the audience to consider ways in which they and their businesses might thank a teacher.

The fun stuff

While the presentation was all business, school district officials did spice up the presentation. A drum line (loudly) greeted attendees. More than 200 students were on hand to represent their schools and show off their culinary team, robotics accomplishments, and the like. One student navigated a drone as guests mingled before lunch. Cheerleaders flipped down the center aisle after lunch.




Photos by Ben Rusnak /Palm Beach County School District. 

BREAKING: PBC Commission, school board members approve new sales tax plan

Palm Beach County Commissioners vote 5-2 to eliminate economic development incentives and construction projects at cultural institutions from the split of money collected by a proposed sales tax increase during a public hearing at the Palm Beach County Governmental Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Commissioners vote 5-2 to eliminate economic development incentives and construction projects at cultural institutions from the split of money collected by a proposed sales tax increase during a public hearing at the Palm Beach County Governmental Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

During a joint meeting to smooth over differences, Palm Beach County commissioners and school board members agreed on a joint plan to raise the county’s 6-cent sales tax by a penny on the dollar.

Commissioners and school board members had previously agreed on the broad outlines of the tax increase, which would generate $2.7 billion over 10 years for repairs to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings. School board members expressed concern, however, when commissioners changed the plan, stripping out a combined $161 million in funding for cultural projects and for economic development incentives.

On Tuesday at Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth campus, commissioners and school board members agreed to a revised plan, which includes a provision to end the tax early if $2.7 billion is generated earlier than 10 years.

What projects could be funded with from sales tax revenue?

Palm Beach County-wide projects, including county buildings

Municipalities’ projects, including roads and bridges

Palm Beach County schools, including repairing aging school buildings

>>RELATED: Full coverage of the proposed sales tax

Check with http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com later for more on this story.

-Wayne Washington

Palm Beach County schools raises: Who got what?

Take notes...
Take notes…

Wednesday the board approved raises for its employees. Here’s a more detailed list of who got what.


  • The Association of Educational Secretaries and Office Professionals
    • Retroactive to January 1, 2016
    • Raises base pay by 2 percent
    • All current employees receive 3 percent increase
  • The Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association (School District Police)
    • Retroactive to January 1, 2016
    • Maximum hourly pay increased by 3 percent
  • FPSU-SEIU (includes custodians, bus drivers, food service, paraprofessionals and other non-instructional employees)
    • Retroactive to January 1, 2016
    • All employees earning less than $10/hour will have their pay increased to $10/hour
    • Bus drivers will earn a base pay of $14/hour
    • Veteran drivers will receive an increase of $1.63/hour
    • All other employees will receive a 3 percent increase
  • Classroom Teachers Association
    • Retroactive to July 1, 2015
    • Increase by an average of 3 percent
      • Highly effective teachers will see a little more – approximately $1,700 a year, vs. $1,275 for effective teachers and new teachers who have not yet received an evaluation
      • There are approximately 4,860 highly effective teachers in the district
    • Pay for part-time work increased to $25/hour
      • Includes Professional Development Days, tutorials, Adult/Community Education classes and working an extra class period
      • First time this supplement has increased in about a decade
    • Non-Bargaining Unit employees (Administrative/Professional, Managerial, Miscellaneous, Confidential) and School-Based Administrators
      • Retroactive to July 1, 2015
      • Increase by an average of 3 percent