Hendry County School Board anticipates drastic changes

LABELLE — While the Hendry County School Board’s virtual meeting was brief, everyone involved agreed that the No. 1 priority was to save jobs.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Puletti suggested that members of the school board seriously consider drastically cutting costs for the 2020-21 school year, during the virtual meeting on Tuesday, April 7. Due to the issues and changes surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Puletti urged the district to be extremely conservative while preparing for shortages and cutbacks, adding that if they found the cutbacks weren’t as severe, they could add things back in later on.

“We could be hopeful, but I would rather be conservative in preparing for this,” Mr. Puletti said. “First of all, before I say anything else, we are good through June 30. The state has told us our money is good through June 30. But for the coming year, due to this emergency I would suggest the board removes from 6% to the required 3%.” Heavy sighs could be heard from the others in attendance.

“We will have no new added positions added anywhere,” Mr. Puletti suggested, “administrative, teaching, or custodial — no new positions.

“We also need to build a budget that has no salary increases,” he went on. “Then, on top of that, we need to calculate the cost of all of our contracts and we need to take a serious look at all of our contracts, particularly those paid out of general funds.”

Some discussion was had between School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Busin and Ann Marie Ricardi, the chief financial officer, regarding a report containing the contract and costs. Ms. Ricardi said she could provide that information as soon as Thursday.

“I have a feeling the federal dollars might also be impacted, but if we take this conservative approach and expect the worst, if the state comes in and makes drastic cuts, the Hendry County School District will be in a better position to withstand it,” Mr. Puletti explained. He reminded the board that he was on short time, but asked they seriously consider his recommendations as they build their budget for the next year.

“One good thing is that our economy in Florida shut down toward the end of the winter season, perhaps we can recover to regain some of our summer season,” Mr. Puletti said. He went on to explain that some of the county businesses may tragically fail, sales taxes collection has and will continue to suffer, and that the top priority should be to prevent loss of jobs. He even said that if they had to forgo programs and computers, and continue to teach using just paper and chalk, that’s what they should choose.

Mrs. Busin agreed, saying she had been taught, “You can do without programs but you cannot do without people.” She also asked when Mr. Puletti might have more numbers from legislators, but he was unsure. He reported that during a recent State Superintendents Association meeting, the president of the association had warned them to prepare for a possible special session, but nothing was set in stone.

Jon Basquin, board member for District 5, said, “I’d like to see our numbers before we get too far into this, but, I definitely don’t want to lose any jobs.”

The conversation went into taking a closer, detailed look at the numbers, before making any finite decisions, but it seemed all were in agreement that this emergency would require some drastic changes.

“Before we go on we will lay everything out, but we are in an emergency,” Mr. Puletti repeated, once again stressing the importance of drastic cuts in order to save jobs, and to make sure they remained fair and equitable.

Before the meeting was adjourned, Mrs. Busin advocated for some neighborhoods she had noticed may be transportation disadvantaged and in need of meal deliveries. Dwayne Brown, of District 1, said he would be making arrangements for those in need.

Mr. Basquin said there is a local grocery store that wanted to help teachers and first responders by holding special shopping hours. He mentioned they could contact him for more info, by email at district5@hendry-schools.net or by phone at 863-228-7180.

Amanda Nelson of District 3 thanked everyone involved for all of their efforts.

Mrs. Busin echoed this sentiment and added, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do, and Hendry County is tough.”

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment