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Education

DCPS Budget: An Exercise In Trial-And-Error Planning

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Cyd Hoskinson
/
WJCT

Next year’s budget for the Duval County public school system is still very much a work in progress… despite the fact that it’s got to be finished, approved and ready for implementation by the end of July.

And, when you consider school Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti and 4-of-the-7 school board members have been on the job for less than a year, and that, together, they’re trying to create a budget basically out of whole cloth, you’ve got to wonder how it’s all going to end.

"Obviously, we have a new strategic plan and we've rebuilt the budget to directly align to that strategic plan and drive it," says Vitti, "to add things like a music and art teacher at every school, to build career educational programs, to put a dean of discipline in every middle and high school  to address safety and discipline issues."

These are all components of  Dr. Vitti’s plan to reorganize the school district from the top down.  He calls it being child-centric.

"What we're doing is shifting resources, dollars, in the name of programs and personnel from the district to schools."

It’s a more equitable way of doing things, he says.

"To say that based on the number of students that you have, you receive a certain number of teachers, you receive a certain number of assistant principals, a certain number of clerical staff so that it's not based on who you know. It's not based on how we've always done it."

Vitti has proposed:

  • eliminating jobs at the district level that he considers unnecessary or redundant
  • restore magnet school transportation and buses for after school activities
  • provide test coordinators, reading and math coaches, media specialists, guidance counselors, assistant principals and security guards. 
  • improve learning experiences for 3-and-4 year olds 
  • expand college and career opportunities for high school students.

And then there’s the issue of speech pathologists.
"Duval County Schools right now is 53 speech pathologists short," says Dr. Christine Sapienza, who’s on board to build Jacksonville University’s new speech pathology program. Sapienza ays the superintendent has made it clear he plans to fix the problem.

"They're going to be reorganizing their whole county school system to make sure speech pathology is part of their literacy program and part of the educational planning for their students."

But, so many changes have been floated over the past few months that it’s been hard to tell what’s real and what’s rumor. 

And it’s not just the adults who have been caught up in all the uncertainties swirling around the district.

"The rumors are that a lot of arts teachers are going to be cut," says high school senior Tristan Drake, a film major at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.

On this day, Tristan's wearing a yellow tee-shirt showing the face of a teacher who seems to be looking out from behind what appears to be prison bars.

"This is one of my film teachers, and he is also qualified to teach gym. So what they were going to do is, instead of having him be a full time film teacher, they were going to have him be part time film and part time gym. And I wouldn't even have seen him next year."

So, Tristan says, when the superintendent asked for feedback, he was quick to send an email.

"I know a lot of my fellow classmates did that. I know a lot of my teachers did that. And because of that, my principal, you know, on Friday, she came on the announcements and said don't worry. Everything's going to be okay."

Tristan says he can live with that for now.

In the meantime, the superintendent and the school board will continue to fine tune the $1.6 billion spending plan.

Their next budget workshop is set for June 18th.