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Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 24, 2014 3 years ago

School District's millage rate falls for the first time in three years

by: Jessica Salmond Staff Writer

Although the Sarasota County School District’s millage rate is proposed to be reduced this year, its revenues are still projected to increase because of rising property values.

On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Al Weidner presented the proposed budget for the district’s 2014-2015 fiscal year. Because of a decrease in the state-mandated portion of the millage rate, the total millage rate for the district will fall from 7.97 in 2013 to 7.777 in 2014. It is the first time the millage rate has decreased since 2011.

One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

That means for every $100,000 of assessed value, homeowners will save $19.30 on their propoerty-tax bill.

However, with home values in the area rising, the school district’s taxable values, the tax roll, increased 7.8% from last year. The net result will mean more revenue from property taxes for schools than last year.

The property appraiser will release a notice of proposed taxes in late August, Weidner said.

Weidner said the school’s budget is in “very good condition this year,” with a total $704 million.

“Since 2007-2008 it’s been painful” to operate the budget because of the cuts that had to be made, he said.

A total of $124.5 million has been cut from the district’s general fund budget since 2007. This year, $108,477 was cut.

Because the superintendent and the board were conservative during the recession, all funds have adequate reserves, he said.

“This budget maintains the current programs that have enabled the school district to be rated as an A district,” Weidner said.

Weidner praised Food and Nutrition Services for a fund balance reserve (also known as a rainy day fund) of 32%.

“That’s the highest in my whole career it’s ever been,” he said.

The district student enrollment is anticipated to increase by 1,077 in the 2014-15 school year, with 891 additional students in charters and 186 in district schools.

“Hopefully by next year we’ll have a balanced budget,” Weidner said.

The board approved the millage rate and budget for advertising. The proposed budget will be voted on for approval at a meeting 5:15 p.m. July 29, at the Landings Administrative Complex, 1980 Landings Blvd., Sarasota.

Sarasota County School Board approves $1.8M in grants

The Sarasota County School Board approved six grants totaling $1,788,848 at its Tuesday meeting.
Phillippi Shores Elementary received two different grants for playwriting.

Freda Williams, first-grade teacher, and Lisa Stephen, second-grade teacher, applied for $4,000 and $6,000 grants, respectively, to help fund Write a Play, an after-school program that teaches kids how to develop and write a play. The program is part of the school’s international baccalaureate curriculum and is provided through Florida Studio Theater (FST). FST travels around the state to help teach character and plot development, writing skills and games to facilitate the thinking process.

Williams began the program last year with 18 of her first-grade students. The program helped the kids get out of their comfort zones while teaching them a different way to write and express themselves, she said.
Participating classes in this program can submit a play to FST, which then selects about 10 of the best plays.

Last year, Williams’ class play was selected as a winner — out of 3,000 submissions — that FST actors performed at the Young Playwrights Festival. The class attended the Sarasota theater to watch their creation on stage.

“I don’t think they’ll ever forget,” Williams said. “It’s kind of like winning an Oscar.”

Williams is proposing this grant so that the entire first grade can participate. The two sections of the program, Write a Play and Readers Theater, cost the school about $20 per child.

“We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have a grant because it’s too expensive,” Williams said.

Stephen’s grant, which she named “Let’s Go to the Show,” will fund Readers Theater workshops from FST.

This year she hopes to open up the program to all second-graders at Phillippi Shores.

“The program gets them excited about writing in a different way than they’re used to,” Stephen said.

Ghita DiNota, 7, participated in Williams’ winning class play last year. She said her favorite part of the program was brainstorming the plot, characters and setting.

“It was exciting to not know what they (her classmates) were going to say,” she said.

The play was about an alligator named Chop who wanted to be friends with a fish. A bird tried to warn the fish not to be friends with him. In the end, Chop can’t help himself and eats the fish.

Tyler Roads, another of Williams’ students last year, helped come up with the bird character after watching some woodpeckers in his backyard.

“It was fun. I loved the show,” he said, although he thought the play was too short.

Additional grant proposals
$1,744,023 — Sarasota Against Violence (SAVE) for Booker Middle School to be spread over five years for the reduction of violence and increased access to mental-health services for students.

$5,000 — The Movement Counts for Phillippi Shores Elementary kindergarten students to explore math concepts through creative movement activities.

$5,000 — The Move to the Math Groove for Phillippi Shores Elementary students to explore math concepts through creative movement activities.



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