The Santa Rosa County School District expects a $6 million to $7 million reduction in funding this school year due to lower enrollment numbers caused by COVID-19, which led to the firing or re-assignment of more than 150 teachers last week.

Half of those teachers were reassigned from brick-and-mortar classrooms to remote positions, and the other half were laid off. About half of the approximately 75 teachers who were laid off have since been re-hired at the district with Santa Rosa Online.

But even with the teacher layoffs, which will save the district around $2 million, the district says it’s still expecting to come up short about $4 million or $5 million — which it will still have to make up for in other operational costs come springtime. 

In an hour-long presentation to the Santa Rosa County School Board on Thursday morning, administrative staff said that 22 of the 75 or so teachers who were laid off did not accept a job offer to be re-hired with the district, and 16 still have not found employment. The remaining 37 or so teachers have been re-hired or transferred to other jobs with the district. Due to contractural issues, many teachers had to be laid off first before they were re-hired, as opposed to simply transferred to another job. 

The layoffs were necessary, according to Assistant Superintendent Bill Emerson, due to a reduction in full-time equivalent, or FTE, funding from the state. 

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“If we keep the teachers employed, and we pay them all the way through April, and then they (the state) takes away the funding that we had to teach those students, we find ourselves short in the budget by around $6 million,” Emerson told the News Journal on Thursday. “But yet we’ll have had paid all the teachers already, and we can’t just ask for that back.”  

How FTE funding works

The issue is the FTE funding, which is money per student that the state pays the school district each year. The base amount in Santa Rosa County this year is $7,647.26 per student, but that number can be bigger or smaller depending on several factors, like whether a student is a full-time student at a school. High schoolers who take half their classes at Pensacola State College, for example, would count for a lower FTE, while special needs students have a higher FTE.

The district counts their enrollment numbers at various points throughout the year and then comes up with its projected FTE number based on the enrollment. In January 2020, for example, Emerson said he projected nearly 30,000 students to be enrolled in Santa Rosa County schools come August 2020, which amounted to a projected FTE of about 28,600 students. 

Then, COVID happened. 

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With many students opting to go to home school, private school or Florida Virtual School within the past few weeks, the number of students the district could claim as FTE dropped by about 1,000 children total. That’s because the state won’t pay FTE for pupils who choose one of those three options. 

The state will pay FTE, however, for students who choose remote learning, Santa Rosa Online or brick-and-mortar options. 

“Since the end of May, we have seen a declination of course in the number of students who are enrolled (as FTE),” said Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick at the board meeting Thursday. “The body counts have been diminishing, they’ve been going to various places. Home school has significantly increased, as well as private school accommodations and Florida Virtual School, which are accommodations that would delineate a reduction in FTE.” 

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