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Siesta Key Thursday, Sep. 22, 2011 6 years ago

School board gets news of $14 million hole in next budget year

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

Based on preliminary projections, the Sarasota County School Board will have to cut about $14.5 million from its 2013 fiscal year budget if it wishes to keep its unassigned fund balance, or “rainy day” fund, at a total of 7.5% of the operating budget.

During a workshop Sept. 20, the majority of the five board members said they preferred to keep the fund balance at that level.

“We definitely shouldn’t go below that,” board member Shirley Brown said.

Chairman Frank Kovach and board members Caroline Zucker and Jane Goodwin agreed.

“I would hope that we could do better, though, because as the revenues continue to decline and as our budget continues to bring in less and less money, the 7.5% is worth less,” Zucker said.

Board member Carol Todd asked Superintendent Lori White if the staff could prepare an analysis of the final fund balance over the past five years.

“That’s a good piece of data for the board to examine,” White said.

Brown also suggested the board reassemble a committee it appointed to address cuts for the fiscal year 2012 budget. Its recommendations were presented during bargaining sessions with the Sarasota Classified/Teachers union. That committee composed of staff, employees and union members.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Al Weidner Tuesday presented preliminary estimates of revenue and expense changes he anticipates for the 2013 fiscal year. Federal stimulus dollars, which accounted for $7.9 million of the fiscal year 2012 budget, will be gone by then, he said.

Early indications are that the county’s property tax values will decline another 3% in the next fiscal year, Weidner said. The decrease for the 2012 fiscal year was 6%.

The further decline is expected to translate into approximately $4.8 million in lost local revenue, Weidner said. Furthermore, the district is expected to lose another $1.2 million in state revenue from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2013.

On the opposite side of the balance sheet, Weidner said a projected enrollment decrease of 1.5% in fiscal year 2013 would lead to a net reduction of 65 employees. The next budget also calls for no salary increases. The staff reduction and frozen salaries would decrease expenses by about $3.2 million.

Brown noted more than 30 district administrative employees have not had raises or cost-of-living increases for three years. Teachers this year will be in the same situation, she said.

“Some people say, ‘Well, this is good; they’re feeling (the tough economy) now, too,’” Brown said. “(However) it trickles down into our economy. Our decisions do have an effect on the overall economy.”

The district also plans to require teachers to take two furlough days again, as it has this year. Those days are the first and last ones on the teachers’ calendar.

Weidner said the cost of the district’s health plan in fiscal year 2013 is expected to increase by the national average of 10%. The total cost of employee benefits is expected to rise by about $4 million.

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