Florida Virtual School cuts back after fewer students complete courses

Orlando Sentinel | By Ryan Dailey | June 7, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Virtual School has put a pause on hiring and is taking other cautious financial measures amid a drop in full-time students completing courses over the past year.
The completion of courses is a key metric for the school, which only gets paid if students finish online classes.

After a significant influx of enrollment in recent years driven by the pivot to online learning during the coronavirus pandemic, the number of students completing courses through the school has dwindled.

“Yes, the drop overall has been because of COVID — the return after COVID — in all of the financials, actually,” Louis Algaze, president and CEO of Florida Virtual School, said during a meeting of the school’s trustees Tuesday.

A quarterly financial report given to the trustees outlined the decrease.

The report showed that full-time students completed 50,624 courses from July 1 through March 31. That represents a decrease of 17,379 courses from the same time period in the prior year, when full-time students completed 68,003 courses.

Florida Virtual School, however, saw an increase in part-time “flex” course completions. According to Florida Virtual School’s website, the flex program provides online instruction to public, private and home-schooled students who “receive their primary schooling through a traditional brick and mortar school.”

The financial report showed 376,444 flex course completions from July 1 through March 31. During the same period a year earlier, the school posted 368,430 flex-course completions.
Meanwhile, Florida Virtual School’s expenditures have outpaced revenue growth within its operating fund, according to the report.

The school reported $233,406,574 in revenue through the end of March — an increase of nearly $4 million from the previous year. But it spent $227,676,941, nearly $13.9 million more than last year.

“What caused more expenditures this year?” trustee John Watret asked during Tuesday’s meeting.

Algaze attributed the boost, in part, to spending on salaries.

The virtual school has avoided cutting staff in anticipation of “slight increases” in course completions in the coming year, he said.

“We did not have a layoff of staff in order to make sure that we maintained the services for students,” Algaze said. “And in (the) projection of the upcoming year, we would have hated to have laid off a lot of staff and then as we project some increases here in the next year, slight increases, to have to have different staff come back on board.”

Algaze also noted that Florida Virtual School has put a “pause” on all hiring, and has not been backfilling positions.

“It seems to me you’re overstaffed, though,” trustee Edward Pozzuoli told Algaze.

“We are overstaffed a bit, in the teaching area,” Algaze replied.

Overall, Algaze said, the virtual school is expecting an increase in revenue by June 30, which is the end of the current fiscal year, while expenditures will remain steady.

But Pozzuoli pressed Algaze on the school’s finances, asking whether he had a “plan B” to mitigate the situation.

“Absolutely. Yeah. Again, talking about layoffs is not something that engenders a lot of morale in staff. So, we have plans if needed. We have not backfilled a lot of positions as natural attrition has occurred — as people are going to be retiring here soon, as folks have resigned for whatever reason,” Algaze said.

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