School budget growth comes with a catch

 

School budget growth comes with a catch

 

Date: July 25, 2013
by: David Conway | News Editor

 
 

 

The tentative Sarasota County School Board fiscal year 2013-14 budget includes increases in both revenues and expenditures, but board members said both of those figures came with strings attached via a legislative mandate.

Due to a higher proposed millage rate and an increase in county taxable values, the school board’s proposed tax levy would increase to about $348 million, 6.7% more than the 2012-13 proposed levy.

The budget includes a 2% millage rate increase, which rose to 7.970. A portion of the levy, set by the state legislature and required to collect about $70 million in state grants, represents the entirety of the variance over last year. The school board set the rest of the rate, which is slated to remain flat over last year.

Operating expenditures are also set to increase for the first time since the Great Recession, rising 4.54% over last year. More than half of the increase — about $10.7 million — is tied to legislative mandates to increase teacher pay, an uptick in retirement benefits and an anticipated rise in health insurance costs, according to Al Weidner, the school district’s deputy chief financial officer.

“We got more money, but it came with a lot of strings,” board member Shirley Brown said. “What they gave us is the opportunity for our taxpayers to pay a little bit more.”

Despite the slight millage rate bump, the school board is still spending out of reserves to balance the budget. Weidner said the board was able to reduce $3.8 million in general fund spending from last year. He added that, after seven years of general fund cuts and a reduction of 651 positions over that period, the board was running out of room to draw down spending.

“I don’t see anywhere else we can cut,” Weidner said. “I really don’t.”

The other major source of the operating budget increase is a $6.2 million rise in purchased services, which is due to an increase in students attending charter schools.

The proposed millage rate includes a 1.5 mill property tax that would generate roughly $63 million specifically for capital expenditures. The board’s list of projects for 2013-14 includes construction and remodeling at 15 schools, building purchases for charter schools and the purchase of 45 school buses.

The board approved the advertisement of the proposed budget at Tuesday’s meeting. A public hearing on the budget and millage rate will be held at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, and final adoption of the budget is scheduled for a public hearing Sept. 10.

More information about the 2013-2014 tentative budget can be found at the Sarasota County Schools website, sarasotacountyschools.net/‎.

Contact David Conway at dconway@yourobserver.com.

Click here to see a breakdown of the school budget. 
 

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