Duval School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti made some preliminary budget recommendations Friday that could hurt his popularity with some school principals.


Vitti recommended cutting one clerical employee and one permanent substitute teacher per school. He also recommended reducing the number of math and reading coaches at certain schools.

He also is proposing fewer principals and security guards at some elementary schools. He said he chose cuts that were least likely to hurt classrooms.

Meanwhile, Vitti proposed dipping into the district’s $62 million in reserves to pay for extra security guards at some high schools; additional art, music and part-time PE teachers at big elementary schools, and more assistant principals at certain large middle and high schools.

He said his is proposed cuts and additions were expected to balance out in a tight but flat budget.

The School Board in general gave Vitti’s ideas mixed reviews Friday, congratulating him for proposing a balanced budget but suggesting major changes to some of his calculations.

Constance Hall, a board member, cautioned that Vitti’s presentation is only the beginning, the first formal budget proposal discussion for the 2014-15 school year. She said many aspects of his proposal are likely to change substantially over the next several weeks.

For instance, the board majority wanted less money coming from district reserves than the superintendent wants, saying he’ll have to make his budget balance with about $5.8 million less than he was seeking in expenditures or find the money elsewhere.

At the same time, some board members resisted cutting Vitti’s estimated 160 school clerks and an uncounted number of math and reading coaches.

Vitti said the math and reading coaches would likely become teachers with their own classrooms again, and cutting one clerk spreads the pain equally among schools without touching classroom instruction.

Hall suggested that, instead of adding more art, music and PE teachers to the district’s budget, the district could share the art, music and PE teachers at small schools with bigger schools that need them on a weekly rotation.

In total, Duval’s annual $1.7 billion budget stays close to this year’s spending level, with Vitti assuming similar state spending for schools.

The district and board control about $772 million of the budget through general revenue expenditures. The rest is controlled by the type of funding or program and by state and federal laws.

Duval’s budget is so tight because Duval, like many urban districts, is losing millions of dollars to charter schools and private schools that participate in state-funded voucher programs.

Vitti said Duval will lose $17.6 million more to charters next year, or $66.6 million in total, and about $20.2 million more in McKay Scholarships for private schools.

The district also has long paid annual salary “step” increases to its employees, which also factors into higher personnel costs, he said, adding that benefits costs rose $8 million, too.

Strictly speaking, the district spends more each year than it takes in, and in prior years and this year it has used one-time revenues to pay for ongoing expenses. Vitti’s budget plan would cut that “burn rate” by a third this year and another third next year, to eliminate it entirely for 2016-17.

One important area still up for question is how much money the district will set aside to pay teachers and other unionized staff next year, including how much will be step raises, one-time bonuses or neither.

The current school year’s personnel money includes $22.8 million that Gov. Rick Scott earmarked for teacher raises. Duval school leaders and the teachers’ union reached an agreement that the money would go to teachers again next year if it were earmarked that way.

The governor earmarked the funds in his budget proposal, but the Senate and House versions of the budget bill would give districts greater flexibility in how to spend that.

Vitti recommended that the $22.8 million and an additional $8 million rolled over from Duval’s current year’s budget go toward “step” raises, bonuses or other employment costs. Step raises would add cost to the budget each year, whereas bonuses can be one-time costs.

Because Vitti is in the midst of union negotiations and because the state is requiring changes to teacher salary schedules to take effect in 2015, the School Board decided to discuss the issue of raises and bonuses in the future behind closed doors, in so-called “shade” meetings of the School Board.

The board plans to meet next month to hammer out more details and final amounts for the budget.

Denise Amos: (904) 359-4083