published: Friday, September 13, 2013
School board sets budget on less tax revenue
By PHIL ATTINGER
SEBRING -- School board members gave their unanimous approval Tuesday to a $124.9 million budget that subsists on less property tax revenue than that of last year's budget.
Business Operations Director Mike Averyt said it's a slight decrease in total budget, but an increase in $2 million for the general fund for salaries and benefits.
Out of the district's $88.3 million proposed general fund for the 2013-14 fiscal year, $73.3 million -- or 83 percent-- is set to go to personnel costs, broken down into 62 percent for salaries and 21 percent for benefits.
"We are the largest employer in Highlands County," Averyt said. "Most of our budget is teachers -- people. We don't produce a product. We provide a service."
The general fund also has $5.94 million in fund balance, $53.2 million in state and federal funding, $100,000 in interest, $1.47 million in miscellaneous sources and $985,000 in transfers from debt service and capital improvement funds.
The school board voted in favor of a total tax rate of $7.27 per every $1,000 of taxable property value in the county, compared with last year's combined rate of $7.70 per $1,000.
The budget document states that a homeowner with a $125,000 home and a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $727 in annual school district taxes in the coming fiscal year.
In total, school district taxes are expected to bring in $33.6 million:
-- $23.2 million from district school property tax of $5.02 per every $1,000 in taxable value.
-- $3.45 million in district discretionary tax of 75 cents per every $1,000 in taxable value.
-- $6.92 million in district capital improvement tax of $1.50 per every $1,000 in taxable value.
Averyt said the school board only has discretion capital improvement tax rate, and at that, over only $1.50 of the $2 capital improvement rate -- 50 cents of it is determined by the state.
The district once had $2 million annually to spend on 18 facilities and the main offices. Now it's $250,000.
Ideally, the district would buy 10 new buses per year to stay ahead of the mileage racked up by the fleet of 100 buses, Averyt said.
"We've bought no new buses in three years," Averyt said.
Buses already are being rotated through the routes to keep each one from clocking too many miles, he said.
Eventually, the district may have to dip into the general fund for buses, Averyt said, but that would take away from salary and benefits.
For now, the budget makes up for any losses by using existing fund balances, transferred funds and both state and federal funding.
The district plans to put 8 percent of the general fund toward purchased services and 4 percent for utilities and energy.
Finally, 3.5 percent plans to pay for materials and the remaining 1.5 percent will cover equipment and other needs.
The school district hopes to have $8.83 million over the coming year for federal food programs, including free and reduced-price meals.
While $6.19 million of that would be direct reimbursement, another $2.06 million comes from U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities, food service supplements, interest and food service sales.
The district also has $578,324 left over from the current year's food service budget.
Capital improvement taxes and other revenues will give the school district a boost of $7.01 million, which when combined with $1.78 million in the capital improvement fund will give the district $8.8 million for improvements, a drop of approximately $3 million from last year's budget.
The district allocated $8.42 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year for land, renovations, software and fund transfers.
For the 2013-14 budget, the budget covers those same needs, as well as site improvements and equipment.
The district has also allocated $5.71 million in saved funds, transfers and revenue toward debt service, which when added with the current fund balance should give the district $6.7 million to pay debts in the coming year.
The 2013-14 fiscal year budget states that Highlands' 18 public schools have a combined 12,229 students, 73 percent of which qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
The district counts 6,061 students in its 10 elementary schools, 2,804 in four middle schools, 3,285 in three high schools and 79 in the district's homebound, disability, jail, alternative and virtual school programs.
Board members and the public had no questions for Averyt or Superintendent Wally Cox. Averyt, breathing a sigh of relief, told board members he planned to start immediately on the 2014-15 fiscal year budget, since putting together this budget took several months to complete.
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