School District of Lee County facing big budget shortfall amid coronavirus pandemic

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Teacher and student (WINK News)

Lee County schools are facing a big budget shortfall. They’re looking back to the height of the Great Recession to operate this coming school year.

It’s hard to quantify the financial impact COVID-19 will have on schools until the governor’s office releases new budget projections.

In the meantime, Lee County is being proactive to find out how that will impact students and teachers in the coming year.

$769 million. That’s what the school district is banking on from the state the next fiscal year.

“I’m really, honestly worried that once their budget is cut, ours will be too,” said school board member, Melisa Giovannelli.

The question is, by how much? That’s what keeps Ami Desomaur, the district’s chief financial officer, up at night.

“Part of our process moving forward will be continuing to gather information come up with what we think realistic scenarios for the budget will be and put ourselves in a position to be able to react to whatever situation may come our way,” she said.

Desomaur and her staff have created five different scenarios ranging in a budget shortfall from $20 million all the way to $143 million. All of them call for a cut in per-student spending.

“We looked at 2010, which was in the middle of the last recession, we had a per-student allocation of $7,155 and we said, okay, what if we were going to go back to that? We’re looking at an $82 million loss for the county,” said Kelly.

Lee County schools originally expected to spend $8,005 per student in 2021.

Cutting spending on students is another way of saying cutting spending on teachers and staff, where the district normally spends 70% of its budget.

“I’m going to fight very hard for our teachers and staff to stay employed, cause I’m concerned that that might be where budget cuts are,” Giovannelli said.

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