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New superintendent presents reduced budget proposal

By Staff | Jul 27, 2011

The first recommended budget that the new Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke presented to the school board Tuesday night included $48 million in reductions.
After discussion, the school board approved a tentative budget of $1,403,713,660, which is a 6 percent decrease from the 2011 amended budget.
The budget included a 10 percent decrease from last year’s per pupil funding, which is $700 less per student. The district is anticipating an increase of 1,600 students this year.
Ami Desamours, budget director said this year’s tax roll is the lowest it has been since 2005, along with the millage rate being the lowest since 2005. She said the tax decreased by 2.5 percent to 7.854 mills.
The required local effort millage rate is 5.606, which is expected to generate $309,395,240 for the district. The basic discretionary millage rate is .748 mills.
The tentative capital millage rate is 1.50, which should bring the district an estimated $82.8 million. The revenue accumulated through the capital millage rate is now the sole provider for capital funding. Last year the capital millage rate was 1.25.
Board Member Jane Kuckel said the money collected for schools locally from property taxes is sent to Tallahassee and they decide how much money they want to spend per student.
“The millage rate is not determined by us,” she said. “They are set by the state. That comes to us from the state level, keep that in mind.”
Before the budget discussion began Burke wanted to explain what the district is trying to accomplish with the 2012 tentative budget package.
First, he said, the district has to make sure they apply the class size mandate, with which the district is in compliance.
The second point Burke addressed was that the budget included the restoration of art and music at the elementary level, along with planning periods.
“Our capacity to restore art and music to the elementary school is something we should be proud of in this budget,” Burke said.
He also said they have been able to avoid any general program cuts.
The district was also able to contend with the loss of stimulus dollars due to the district creating a reserves fund three years ago.
“We have hit a cliff and that number is no longer available to us,” Burke said. “With those dollars gone we had to plan appropriately to plan for reductions in the budget to deal with loss of revenue.”
To offset that loss, he said they have been able to build a significant and healthy fund balance.
“It is one we could be proud of during the economic state we are in,” Burke said.
Desamours said the budget shortfall fund currently has $32,985,469, which they hope to add additional funds into throughout the year to help cushion any reductions they may experience in upcoming years.
“We will continue to reserve any amount of money we can,” she said.
Burke told the board members that they have accomplished all of these goals with the tentative budget they proposed Tuesday evening.
“This is a frugal budget, but it is a budget that meets the goals we have established,” he said.
Board member Jeanne Dozier asked Burke if “this is the very best we can do at this time,” concerning the budget.
Burke assured Dozier that this is the best the district can do at this time. He said there are a few areas that they will continue to look at before they provide their final budget recommendation in September.
Energy costs and insurance reductions are among some of the areas Burke hopes to save some additional money for the district.
“I want to be very careful that whatever we do does not have any further impact on the classroom,” Burke told the board.
Kuckel said thinks the district should continue thinking outside of the box when looking for other ways to save money.
“We are looking at every source of income,” she said about health insurance plans, student assignment, transportation and grant money.
Kuckel said although the total budget is down about $49 million, she will be supporting it so they can move on.
“This is a meager budget compared to the responsibilities we have in this district,” Board Member Mary Fischer said.
She said since the district has kept them abreast of developments as they occur regarding the budget, it was no surprise of what was recommended.
“This is what we were expecting,” Fischer said.
Before the meeting concluded, Burke told the board members that they need to set a future meeting so they can talk about what they are going to do for the teachers in the district. He said that the teachers need to be appropriately compensated and be given a competitive salary.
“It is an issue that we have to look at,” Burke said.
The final budget meeting will be held on Sept. 13.