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School district weighs budget implications

By Staff | Feb 9, 2010

The Lee County School Board discussed the upcoming budget process for 2010-2011, but staff pointed out that the district might be dealing with a shortfall depending on the Florida Legislature’s final budget.
Superintendent James Browder presented Gov. Charlie Crist’s 2010-2011 recommended budget Tuesday, an amount that for the last two years has been the high mark between what the governor wants and what the Legislature actually passes.
“We want the governor’s budget, there is a 2.3 percent increase,” said Browder. “The bottom line is we are hopeful, but we prepare for the worst.”
According to Crist’s budget, Lee County’s school tax roll is expected to decrease by 10 percent and the required local effort, or the amount the school district needs to contribute to the budget, also decreased by 10 percent.
“That puts more pressure on the state to come up with additional dollars,” said Budget Director Ami Desamours.
The governor’s budget would also increase base student allocation, or the amount of funding per student, by $88 and stimulus dollars from the federal government would stay the same at $27.5 million.
Desamours said the district should make plans for a possible shortfall of approximately $15 million, an amount that will have to be balanced with reductions unless the board finds another way to find additional funding.
“I don’t believe we will break even, but we need to do what we can to balance the budget,” she said.
One option for the board is to increase a component of their millage rate by 0.25 mills, an amount that would raise $14.7 million to fill a $15 million shortfall that district experienced last year when the Legislature cut funding.
Browder said there is a presumption the board may need to increase property tax rate, but he can’t say it will happen until the Legislature works on their new budget.
School board members also agreed to host a series of budget workshops before any decisions are made about millage.
Browder said he is also concerned about fully implementing the Class Size Amendment. Passed by voters in 2002, the amendment requires classes to be capped at 18 students for elementary, 22 for middle and 25 for high, and needs to be completed by this fall.
The governor’s budget appropriates $88.6 million for Lee County to implement the amendment – exactly what the county received in class size allocations for the 2009 budget – but Browder said it’s not enough.
He said leaving the number the same shows that state officials believe the amount is all that is required for Lee County to meet class size requirements.
“It says we have the money necessary to implement class size and that is not the case,” said Browder
Desamours also presented the findings of a 2009 audit into the district’s FTE (full time equivalent) statistics from the Auditor’s General Office. The audit is held every three years and from 2006 to this year Desamours said the district saved $280,000 by tightening its record keeping and processes.