By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
As area state representatives and senators prepare for the upcoming session of the Florida Legislature, they're eyeing extra dollars for the Volusia County Schools.
"We'll come to a number that we can get through the Senate and House for a supplement for Volusia County," state Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, said. "It's going to be several million dollars."
The veteran senator's District, 10, includes portions of southwest Volusia, from Osteen to DeBary. He is on the Senate's Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. The proposed supplemental appropriation is to help offset losses the county's school system takes through the District Cost Differential.
State Rep. Dave Hood, R-Ormond Beach, whose District, 25, covers Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach Shores south to New Smyrna Beach, is on the House's K-12 Subcommittee.
"Once you get in the details, Volusia is getting the back end of the deal," Rep. Hood said. "I think the best way to help Volusia is a supplemental appropriation."
A dollar is a dollar, but not at the Florida Education Finance Program. There a dollar is 96 cents -- at least for Volusia County Schools. For other school districts, a dollar is upwards to $1.03.
In multiple interviews, Volusia County Schools' officials have said local students are getting shortchanged by the District Cost Differential, or DCD, which shifts portions of some districts' Base Student Allocation to others. There will be a $100 million loss, the largest in the state, by the end of the 2012-2013 fiscal year, That will be the cumulative affect of changes made to the state's education-finance formula in 2004.
In previous interviews, Dr. Robert Moll, deputy superintendent for finance and business, called the DCD "vampire budgeting."
"From my perspective, a dollar should be worth a dollar," he said in a previous interview. "If you're going to have a Base Student Allocation, it should be the same for every one."
In an interview for this story, Dr. Moll said, "Given the fact that we lose up to $12 million per year after the DCD application, I would submit that we could use the maximum amount the Legislature can afford to cover our loss."
State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, has switched from the House to the Senate this year. Her district, 8, includes a wide swath of Volusia, from Oak Hill and Holly Hill west through Deltona and Pierson. She, too, is on the Senate's Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
"We're going to do everything we can to get some supplemental appropriations for the District Cost Differential issue," she said. "That's the top issue for the schools definitely."
The District Cost Differential used to be based primarily on cost-of-living differences among school districts. For example, if average rent was slightly more in one place than another, the state would adjust the student allocations according to cost-of-living formulas. That never sat well with the late Sen. Jim King, Jacksonville. The cost-of-living formula caused Duval schools to lose some of their student allocations to others.
When Sen. King was elected president of the Florida Senate in 2003, he pushed to have the formula evaluated and changed. The result was average wages were included in the District Cost Differential formula. Since the formula change, Duval has gotten an additional $34.5 million through the cost differential formula.
The formula is supposed to be occasionally studied and evaluated, but that's not happened since the changes were done in 2004. The three area legislators said that it's time for the legislature to commission a study on the DCD. However, they also expressed pessimism that the benefiting counties will agree to one.
In the general election Nov. 6, Volusia voters narrowly declined a referendum to add a property-tax surcharge of $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value for four years. The money was intended to go into the school district's operating budget. In interviews after the vote, Dr. Moll estimated Volusia Schools could be facing about a $25 million or more budget shortfall for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Sen. Hukill said this session is a good time for local legislators to get supplemental funding for the school district.
"The state budget is in better shape than it's been the last few years," she said. "We're anticipating more revenue than the last few years."
She added a caveat -- Volusia isn't the only school system on the losing end of the DCD.
"I'm sure there are other school systems that will approach us about their needs," she said. "It may, in fact, be more than just Volusia County."
Also topping Sen. Hukill's legislative to-do list is getting Florida into compliance with mandates in the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2009. It's often called Obamacare, after President Barack Obama.
"You've also got to consider the healthcare issue," Sen. Hukill said. "How does the state comply with the Affordable Care Act? How do we carry out the Affordable Care Act, and what impact does that have on the delivery of healthcare in the state?"
Sen. Simmons, who is chair of the Senate's Banking and Insurance Committee, said he'll spend much of the session looking at property-insurance reforms. He said reforms could increase home buying and have a positive economic affect on the state.
"Right now, the cost of property insurance is causing a home to be out of reach for many people in Volusia County and the state," he said.
On Rep. Hood's legislative to-do list is election reform. He said many voters in the 2012 general elections had to wait far too long to cast ballots.
"I think one of the issues is we probably need to have more early voting," he said. "In some places, you have one machine for too many people."
Also representing Volusia County are representatives Travis Hudson, District 25, Dwayne Taylor, District 26, and David Santiago, District, 27. Sen. John Thrasher's District 6, includes a small portion of northeast Volusia. None were available for interviews by press time. All are Republicans, except for Rep. Taylor.
The 60-day session of the Legislature begins March 5.