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Browder: No deep cuts this budget cycle

By Staff | Jul 29, 2010

For the first time in three years, the Lee County School Board passed a tentative budget without having to make deep cuts, said Superintendent James Browder.
“We have handled any of our reductions in careful planning with district staff and this board,” said Browder. “Our goal this year was to simply not eliminate jobs.”
On Thursday afternoon the school board set millage rates and approved the 2010-2011 tentative budget worth $1.395 billion. Overall, the millage rate for the tentative budget is 8.015 mills, which will raise $453 million for the county.
This is an increase from the previous year’s rate of 7.508, because the district’s Required Local Effort millage rate increased from 5.260 to 5.767. School board members stressed that the RLE increase is the result of a state mandate.
“The only thing I really want to hone is that this is set by the state,” said Board Member Jeannie Dozier. “The state tells us what the Required Local Effort will be.”
A constituent also contacted Vice-Chairman Elinor Scricca earlier this week, she said, telling her to vote against any budget that increases the millage rate, even if the increase results from a state mandate. But, the Florida Constitution and a number of state statutes require the school board to approve a balanced budget or face a loss of state funding, she said.
“There are a great many of our constituents who do not understand this and simply feel this is an increase in taxes and that we should revolt,” she said.
The $1.395 billion tentative budget approved on Thursday is broken down into specific items: $733 million for operating, $125 million for special revenue, $48 million for debt service, $377 million for capital projects and $110 million for the internal service.
The district also adopted a new critical operating millage rate of 0.25. If the board chooses, they can levy the 0.25 as a shift of approximately $14 million from the capital to operating account to fund day-to-day operations.
Even though the district didn’t make cuts as deep as in previous years, positions were eliminated from the budget, including 70 teachers, 70 paraprofessionals, 38 helping teachers and 16 social workers.
Board Member Jane Kuckel pointed out that an increase in the millage rate doesn’t mean every homeowner will be paying more in their tax bill.
“One of the things that is a misconception is that an increase in millage is an increase in our tax rate,” she said, adding that it depends on property values. “Tax rate going up doesn’t necessarily mean you pay more taxes.”
Property taxes are levied according to valuation – 1 mill per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Proeprty values are down again this year.