By Carey Codd

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – COVID-19 is battering Florida’s tourist-driven economy. Cruise ships are shut down, theme parks are closed and tourists are sparse.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie fears what the steep drop in state revenue from tourism and other industries could mean for public education.

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“We could expect budget cuts in the 20-25 percent range for the coming school year,” Runcie said.

Runcie said the district is doing several things to prepare and conserve money — including instituting a hiring freeze and trying to renegotiate existing contracts.

“Everything we do will be upended and will be reexamined to find every avenue we can to cut while preserving the classroom,” he said.

Runcie is calling for increased federal funding and said if pay cuts are needed they would be shared throughout the district.

“Everybody would share in any kind of sacrifices that are made and that starts at the top on the way down,” Runcie said.

But for now he’s hopeful that will not be necessary.

“We’re doing everything that we can to not impact our employees at this time,” he said.

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Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he’s “not ready yet to sound the alarm bell.”

He believes federal funds already appropriated in the CARES Act, which was signed last month in response to the pandemic, will bring millions to Florida’s schools to mitigate any losses. Carvalho said two appropriations were set aside for Florida — $173 million for education and $770 million to stabilize the local economy and it’s investment in public education.
Carvalho’s concern is whether South Florida schools districts, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, will get their fair share.

“Not only are we the largest districts, so we hope that we get an equitable share of the federal investment, but we will probably be the most impacted districts as far as recovery because of the greater concentration of infections in our communities,” he told CBS 4 News.

In response to the pandemic, Miami-Dade Schools are hiring only essential employees and, like Broward, are looking to renegotiate private sector contracts.

Carvalho said he’s led during challenging fiscal times before, like the Great Recession in 2008. He said the district did not lay off employees for financial reasons during that time and he doesn’t plan for it happen this time, either.

“It is my goal to protect the highly qualified work force that we currently have and not impact programs that are important in the lives of our kids,” he said.

Both superintendents are making it a priority to capture federal funds for South Florida. Carvalho said he plans to lobby in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. to bring that money to South Florida. Runcie said Broward Schools is communicating with state education leaders, including Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, to ensure that COVID-19 relief money flows to this area.

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