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School district budget approved

By Staff | Sep 14, 2010

The Lee County School Board unanimously approved its 2010-2011 budget of $1.411 billion Tuesday night, which is a 3 percent decrease from last year.

The approved budget includes $750 million for the general fund, $48 million for debt services, $343 million for capital projects, $115 million for special revenue, $109 million for internal services and $44 million for food services.

The general fund, which consists of 53 percent of the budget total, is used as the district’s primary operating fund for day-to-day needs. This includes salaries, benefits, contracted services and vendors, supplies, instructional materials, textbooks, legal fees, utilities, bus transportation and custodial services.

There was an increase of $25 million for the general fund from last year’s actual results due to the reserves the district is accruing to help offset the federal stimulus funds that will be lost next year.

The capital projects fund, which makes up 24 percent of the total budget, provides a five-year capital outlay plan to build and maintain district buildings and the purchase of equipment. With the approval from the board, this plan will help the district respond to the expected growth over the next five years with three elementary schools, two middle schools and a new Lee County Public Safety Training Center, along with renovation at High Tech Central.

Superintendent James Browder said the five-year plan puts more people to work within this community.

“One of the purposes of this money is to do economic things within the community to help people get back to work,” he said. “It will help our local economy also as we move forward.”

Browder said in 2012 he hopes to have a middle school ready to open in the east because existing middle schools have reached their student capacities.

Board member Jeanne Dozier said every time the district can find any changes or reductions in its budget it is for the better of the schools.

“All of our departments have looked at every penny that comes in,” she said, adding that they have also “identified cost saving measures on how to make our dollars stretch.”

“I have heard from teachers that their supply budgets have been cut,” Dozier said. “But we will make it work. I applaud everyone and thank all of you for passing this budget this evening.”

Board member Jane Kuckel said the board has reduced the budget over the past five years. She said although the district created reserves so the classrooms and students remain at the top of the list, the district is still going to experience a loss with stimulus money in the upcoming year.

“It’s been a real struggle over the over the last few years and we appreciate everyone’s efforts,” Kuckel said, adding she commends the district’s budget department in creating reserves to meet the shortfalls the district will face.

The school board also approved the required local effort millage levy of 5.767, which will generate $326 million, 0.748 for the basic discretionary operating millage, which will generate $42 million, 1.250 for the capital outlay millage, which will generate $70 million and the critical operating millage that will generate $14 million.

The total millage levy of 8.015, was an increase from the previous year of 7.508.

Business Services Executive Director Ami Desamours said the required local effort (RLE) levy is based on a correlation between the property value of a home and the millage rate. She said as individuals saw their property values go up over the past couple of years they saw their tax rate go down and as they saw their property value go down their millage rate went up to generate money.

Board Chairman Steven Teuber said the state sets how much money Lee County has to have for the RLE.

“If we don’t approve it, we will be penalized,” he said.

Teuber said a total of $130 million has already been received by the state from taxpayers for the RLE and if they did not approve it they would not receive any of the money.

Vice Chairman Elinor Scricca said although they have been explaining the RLE levy for many years, the difficulty lies that individuals only look at the number on their tax bill and they don’t understand the rationale or wish to understand the rationale. She said a great deal of educating has to be done and an attitude of accepting that education before the community has to come to a full realization.

Dozier agreed in stating that the district has its work cut out for them.

“I ask the superintendent that we bring these individuals up to speed so they have a greater understanding of what our duty is as far as our budget and what our consequences are if we don’t pass it,” she said.

With the adoption of the critical operating budget Teuber said the district has elected to take .250 of the millage levy and transfer it into the operating fund to allow the district to continue to get through the recessionary period. He said this will allow the district to use the funds for one year to do any critical operations that lay before the district.

“The taxpayers will see no difference,” he said.

Teuber said the district will have to continue to work with Tallahassee as the money gets tighter and tighter.

“I don’t think this year will be any different with numbers,” he said.

“The stage has been set let the play begin,” Scricca said.

There is a total of 116 schools that make up the Lee County School District for an estimated 80,000