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School board to consider $1.42 billion budget

By Staff | Jul 27, 2009

By MCKENZIE CASSIDY, mcassidy@breezenewspapers.com
The Lee County School Board will decide whether to approve Superintendent James Browder’s 2009/2010 tentative budget in a workshop meeting Wednesday night.
Released Friday afternoon, the tentative budget is valued at $1.42 billion in six funds — general, debt service, capital, special revenue funds, food service and internal service — and is significantly less than last year’s $1.55 billion budget.
The district’s major accounts are its $440 million capital budget for construction projects and maintenance, and its $708 million general fund used for day-to-day expenditures such as salaries or supply purchases.
By law the district needs to certify its 2010 millage rate with Lee County’s Property Appraiser’s Office. The proposed millage rate is an increase from 6.868 mills last year to 7.508 mills, an amount that will generate $68 million for the school district, according to documents in the tentative budget.
For homeowners, the millage rate is $7.50 for every $1,000 of assessed property. Therefore a house worth $200,000 would pay $1,500 to the school district — an increase of $140 from last year.
School board member Robert Chilmonik voiced his concern Monday about raising the millage rate, but added he will listen to Wednesday’s presentation on the budget.
“This is the wrong time to increase taxes on the citizens of Lee County,” said Chilmonik.
Specifically, Chilmonik said he has raised some points of contention that he feels haven’t been dealt with, including the superintendent’s severance package, nicknamed the “Golden Parachute,” and substantial cost reductions inside the budget. He’s also concerned that unemployment in Lee County is over 13 percent and the country is poised for a second wave of home foreclosures.
“We don’t know what our enrollment will be for next year, but I suspect we will be down,” he said.
Student enrollment decreased for the first time in Lee County last year and as a result the district received less funding from the state. The amount it receives per student is dropping from $7,206 in 2009 to $7,168 in the tentative budget.
Because employee salaries make up 65 percent of the district’s general fund, some positions have been lost as officials work to present a balanced budget with less funding. Funds set aside for salaries and benefits dropped from $502 million in 2009 to $463 million in the tentative budget.
According to staffing comparisons, the district would lose 148 instructional positions, 13 administrative positions, 14 supervisory positions and 231 support positions.
Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County, said the tentative budget isn’t as devastating as union officials thought it would be earlier this spring. Projections from the beginning of 2009 had the district losing as many as 600 positions.
“It is less awful, it’s not as devastating as we thought it would be,” said Castellano. “We want to see as many people stay employed as possible.”
Now the district is sifting through the number of staffers being rehired from the summer and those who are retiring or not being reappointed, he said.
Lee County isn’t the only district increasing its property taxes. This year the Legislature gave all 67 districts the opportunity to levy a one-time tax increase worth 0.25 mills. In a report from the Associated Press, Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton said that many districts across the state were evoking the increase.
Furthermore, he said many districts feel the Legislature failed to fund public education.
“There’s a huge amount of grumbling among my school board members,” Blanton said in the AP report. “The Legislature has not met its state-mandated obligation and my people are not happy about it.”