While there are lots of issues cropping up across the state of Florida when it comes to education, the biggest by far is the lack of funding. Current per-pupil spending here in the Sunshine State hovers around $7200 and is less than a decade ago even though the economy has rebounded substantially since the Great Recession.
And we are way behind the national average of $10,600 per pupil, which is downright shameful considering we’re now the third biggest state in the U.S. in terms of population. You’d think our legislators in Tallahassee would realize that properly funding education means luring more investment into the state, because if you want business leaders to flock here we’d better have a high quality public education system to teach the next generation of Floridians.
But if you live anywhere in the Tampa Bay area (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, etc) and are tuning in to what’s happening, you’re also aware of the “financial woes” facing Hillsborough County Public Schools. Our top administrators and elected officials are coming to grips with a significant budget crisis that includes one billion dollars in debt, one billion dollars in deferred/needed maintenance, and another billion dollars of new schools that will need to be built to handle the exponential growth taking place in southern and eastern parts of the county.
This past Tuesday, the School Board held a public budget workshop to discuss ideas about how to combat this challenge, and one in particular stuck out. Susan Valdes, who has been a school board member since 2004–and you could argue bears much responsibility for our current mess because she has clearly passed budgets that were reckless in their spending–openly floated the idea of freezing everyone’s salary.
Clearly Mrs. Valdes doesn’t understand basic economics…
Hillsborough County Public Schools is the largest employer in the Tampa Bay area. There are over 15,000 teachers, and 26,000 employees in total. All of these employees spend most of their hard earned money locally, and anyone who has lived in Tampa in the last 5 years knows the area is experiencing robust growth. If the school board and administration freeze salaries, this will create a ripple effect that will negatively impact the local economy and make the downward spiral that much worse.
Perhaps more devastating, this decision could force good teachers to leave the profession altogether, which we continually see across the state because jobs are plentiful. The unemployment rate in Florida sits at 4.5%; here in Tampa Bay it’s actually 3.7%(!). This means there are jobs out there, and if veteran teachers can’t make ends meet they’ll go do something else. Even if there weren’t a hiring freeze, HR staff in any organization will also tell you that hiring and training new employees is more expensive than retaining older ones.
Should the school board even be considering this as an option? It will probably do a lot more harm than good, especially if those in charge continue to spend money frivolously while asking the primary workforce to make the sacrifice that will hurt our local economy in the long run.
P.S. – If you’d like to hear more on this topic and why freezing salaries is a huge mistake, don’t forget to check out the latest episode of the podcast located on the right-hand side of the main sidebar. The “Friday Five” will be posted each week and will feature me (and hopefully others in the future) sounding off about a timely issue concerning education either locally or elsewhere in the state.