The Sarasota County School Board adopted a tentative millage and budget for the 2021-22 school year with two unanimous votes Tuesday.
The district’s general fund budget is $589 million, up 17% from $503 million in 2020. The district’s total budget is $1.087 billion.
Aside from the general fund, $227 million will be set aside for a capital fund that covers projects and property purchases. The remaining funds will be used for debt services, special revenue and internal services.
Despite earlier projections, the district is expecting an increase of just over 1,000 students in the new year, bringing its total to 44,617 compared to 42,972 at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
The higher enrollment means good news for the district’s budget, because enrollment directly affects how much funding the district receives from the state.
District leaders say the increase is due to the opening of a new charter school, Dreamers Academy, and parents who held their kindergarten-aged children back due to COVID-19.
A majority — 55% — of the budget will be covered by taxes levied on residents. The state and federal governments both contribute just over 7% each of the budget annually.
The adopted millage rate of 6.709 is a 3.8% decrease from from the 2020 rate of 6.974.
The total millage rate is broken into four categories: required local effort, discretionary operating, capital and voter-operated. The operating millage is required and set by the state each year to help to hire staff, pay negotiated salary and cover the cost of district utilities and services.
Sarasota voters in 2002 approved a self-imposed one-mill property tax to support arts teachers and additional instruction, among other things. District leaders anticipate the tax will generate $71 million in the new fiscal year, and voters will again see a proposal to maintain the millage rate on the upcoming 2022 ballot.
One mill is equal to $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. With the district’s tentative millage rate, residents who own a house with an assessed value of $400,000 can expect to pay $2,684 in taxes.
Although the district’s millage rate is lower, leaders still expect to collect more money than last year. This is because home prices in Sarasota County rose to record levels in 2021.
The median price for single-family homes climbed to an all-time high of $407,000 in May, which represents a 36.6% increase from May 2020. The increase means, on average, homeowners will be paying more in property taxes.
The district expects to collect $500.4 million in property taxes compared to $481.7 million in 2020, a 3.9% increase.
The rising property values triggered a decrease in the required local effort millage, a system lawmakers designed to avoid perpetually rising taxes. This dynamic is responsible in part for the lower overall millage rate.
Christa Curtner, director of the budget, said the district’s reserve accounts will remain strong throughout the next two years. The district ended the fiscal year with $64 million in unassigned funds.
Tax notices will be sent out to residents beginning Aug. 24. The board is set to adopt the final budget and millage rate in September.