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Siesta Key Thursday, Apr. 19, 2012 9 years ago

Sarasota district must do more with less

by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

Sarasota County School Board members were told by its staff at a workshop Tuesday that property-tax collections county-wide, which are the district’s primary funding source, are estimated to be $41.5 billion in 2012-13, a 35.6% decrease in overall dollars when compared to the $64.7 billion the county collected in 2007-08.

For the district, that drop means revenues the district can use to fund projects in 2012-13 are about half of what they were just five years ago. The district is faced with a capital revenue reduction of 55% in fiscal year 2012-13. Total district revenues most likely will fall from $165.3 million in 2007-08 to $75.4 million in 2012-13.

School Board Deputy Chief Financial Officer Al Weidner said the figures won’t be finalized until July, but the workshop provided an overview of the financial environment.

“We’re not getting as much to run the school district as we did last year,” said Superintendent Lori White.

“Our economy has been hit very hard,” Ken Marsh, director of long-range planning for the district, told school board members Tuesday. “We have higher unemployment rates than at the state and national levels, which is in contrast with the past.”

Despite the figures, staff told school board members they have learned to be creative with the dollars they have. That includes approving a $26.5 million Sarasota High School campus renovation project this summer that will be funded through a combination of anticipated savings at the Sarasota County Technical Center and the rebuild of Venice High School. The Sarasota High project, which will be officially approved in July, is expected to begin later this year.

Some mid-sized projects at the school level, which were prioritized according to their impact on instruction and student safety and return on investment, can also be funded in the future.

Those projects include:
• Building a North Port Transportation Depot funded by impact fees;
• A covered walkway at Garden Elementary;
• Creating more athletic locker space at North Port High School;
• Continuing to fund Classroom of Tomorrow and Technology Enhanced Active Learning labs;
• Renovations to Fire Science Academy portables; and
• A possible renovation of Building 5 at Venice Middle School.

After those projects are funded, the capital budget will have a project contingency of just more than $4 million and a fund balance of just more than $5 million, which doesn’t leave much money for additional significant projects until the 2015-16 fiscal year.

That means the district’s next big projects — renovations to Pine View School and Bay Haven School of Basics Plus — will have to wait another three to four years. Scott Lempe, the district’s chief operating officer, said there will be money to continue regular maintenance and that both of those campuses are still in good shape.

“Take comfort in the current condition of the facilities,” Lempe said. “It’s not catastrophic that we can’t (perform those big projects over the next three years).”

City Editor Kurt Schultheis contributed to this story.

Money Management
Sarasota County School Board officials reported the following projects can either be completed or begin in fiscal year 2013-14. These projects are funded through a combination of savings from other projects.

Major Rebuild Project; Estimated Cost

Booker High School Rebuild; $58.8 million
Sarasota High School Rebuild; $26.5 million
Sarasota County Technical Institute*; $78.8 million
Venice High School**; $91.4 million
* Includes the renovation of Riverview High School ball fields
** Includes city of Venice contribution for a Performing Arts Theater

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