By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
About 1,300 gave their suggestions. Now school officials are combing through them for the coming 2013-2014 budget. The school board will get a report as it heads to the first budget workshop in February.
"Some people have made 30 recommendations in their responses," Nancy Wait, community information director, said.
Volusia County Schools put up a web survey at myvolusiaschools.org from December to Jan. 18 after 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.
"If we used the current taxable value, which has fluctuated, the one mill would have generated $26 million a year for the four years," Dr. Robert Moll, deputy superintendent for financial and business services, said in a previous interview.
That money would have replaced a quarter-mil property-tax surcharge voters approved in 2010, and other recent revenue reductions. The property-tax surcharge expired this fiscal year.
Most of the web survey respondents made one or two suggestions. Skot Bruhn kept his short. He suggested selling the district's DeLand Administrative Complex, 200 N. Clara Ave.
"Moving all the offices out of there to other unused buildings," he said. "If they sold that, it would be a ton of money."
The schools went on a building campaign in the early 2000s anticipating lots of students that haven't shown up, meaning Volusia County Schools has fixed expenses for building spaces that aren't filled. According to the district's annual 20-day count, it has 61,124 children and youths in its schools and programs. That's down 512 students from last school year's 20-day count. In May 2007, just over 64,000 students attended Volusia's public schools. The projection at the time was the county's public schools would have more than 70,000 students by now.
Mr. Bruhn said with Internet and telecommunications technology it seems administrators and office personnel could operate efficiently from decentralized offices spread through on- and off-campus sites. The Deltona man attended Volusia schools, and had three children go through them as well. He said his suggestion comes from experience running a small business, Bruhn's Lawn N Landscaping.
"I'm just a common guy," he said. "Of course, someone would have to run the numbers."
Mr. Bruhn wasn't the only one with what might seem like offbeat suggestions. Ms. Wait said there were several.
"The one that stands out for me is the suggestion that we allow a company to sponsor a day at school," she said. "Teachers would mention the company's name, and it would be on announcements."
For a price, of course. Other survey respondents suggested mixing fiscal responsibility with reducing the nation's dependence on fossil fuels.
"Run busses on vegetable oil," Ms. Wait said. "That would require changing out a lot of stuff, and cost us money."
There was another suggestion for reducing costs while helping to secure energy independence.
"Install windmills at schools to generate our own electricity," Ms. Wait said.
Several suggested going to four-day school weeks. Of course, about 45 percent of respondents were teachers. Another suggestion aimed at reducing costs and getting more parental involvement at schools.
About 22 percent of suggestion makers was parents. Another 2 percent was students. About 20 percent identified themselves as staff and administrators. The remaining 11 percent was community members.
"There were some about parents helping at the schools, like with janitorial work," Ms. Wait said.
Some folks suggested the district could reduce its janitorial costs by getting basic cleaning done by misbehaving students.
Many suggested reducing the number of administrators and their pay.
"Cut the pay, reduce the number of positions; that's a common theme for administrators," Ms. Wait said. "I've also seen 'reduce school-board salaries'. Those are set by the state and are right around $34,000."
Ms. Wait said school board members have anonymously donated portions of their pay back to the district.
What's unpopular is cutting athletics and arts.
"Overwhelming, the responses is to preserve the arts and the electives," Ms. Wait said. "I'm seeing people wanting to protect the arts and sports, so students have a well-rounded education."