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School district approves budget

By Staff | Sep 14, 2011

The Lee County School Board unanimously approved a $1.381 billion budget Tuesday night, a decrease of approximately 7 percent from the previous fiscal year.

The final budget is also less than the tentative budget of $1,403,713,660 previously approved in July.

“As we all know, this has been a very difficult sequence of fiscal years for the state of Florida and Florida school districts,” Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke said.

The final budget includes $764,329,988 for the general fund; $42,810,562 for debt services; $338,131,310 for capital projects; $119,434,604 for special revenue; $116,751,204 for internal services and $51,495,363 for food services.

The tax rates approved includes a required local effort of 5.606 mills, which is estimated to raise $309,395,240; basic discretionary of .748, which is estimated to raise $41,282,133 and capital outlay of 1.500, which is estimated to raise $82,785,027. The total millage levy is 7.854 mills, which will raise an estimated $433,462,400.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property valuation.

Budget Director Dr. Ami Desamours said in preparing the 2012 budget that the district had to come into compliance with the state class size mandate, and managed to restore music and art and some planning at the secondary levels. In addition, she said, they wanted to avoid program cuts, contend with the loss of stimulus dollars and critical needs millage, along with maintaining a significant fund balance.

Desamours said the actual roll back rate, which is the millage rate necessary to generate the same amount of money as was raised during the prior school year was 8.2319, but the district levied 7.854 mills for the 2012 year.

The decrease will affect taxpayers by lowering taxes slightly. For example a home valued at $100,000 last year that saw the “average” countywide decline of 2.5 percent in valuation is now assessed at $97,500. At the previous tax rate of 8.015 the school tax portion of the bill, less homestead exemption, was $601.13. With the decrease in both valuation and rate, the school portion of the tax bill for the same home would be $569.42 with the new tax rate of 7.854, a difference of $31.71.

Burke said this past year the school district saw an overall decline in the local tax roll, which comprises 55 percent of the revenue used to run 120 schools in the district.

Lee County has seen a decline of more than 47 percent in property valuations in the past four years.

“We have to do more with less,” he said, adding this comes at a time when student enrollment is increasing.

Burke said the state legislature reduced the local required effort for the school district.

“Not only do we have a decline in local property values, but we have a decline in the local required effort that the legislature has given to us,” he said.

Although the budget is going to be lean for 2012, the district was able to reduce the number of layoffs, along with implementing art and music in elementary schools and planning periods at the secondary level.

This year the funding per pupil is approximately a 10 percent reduction from the previous year, or a loss of $700 per student. The decrease in funding is due to a deduction of $27 million in stimulus generated through the Florida Education Finance Program and legislative reduction in taxes.

The 201-2012 projected student count is 83,636 students, with the largest population in elementary schools with 40,459 students. A final count will be given in October.

“This in my opinion is a very difficult number for us to deal with,” Burke said, adding that the numbers were the fiscal reality with which they were faced.

The PECO, Public Education Capital Outlay, money that the district received in previous years, they will no longer receive, Burke said because those capital funds will be diverted to charter schools.

The budget also includes a five-year plan for three k-12 schools and three adult facilities in the capital budget. An elementary and middle school will open in Lehigh in 2012.

Burke said the capital budget is down 12 percent from the previous year.

“We are looking forward to a day when we no longer have the decline to raise the resources we need to educate all the children in the district,” he said.

Desamours said they have a budget shortfall fund to protect from further budget cuts inside this year budget as well as future years. She said they already suffered some revenue loss from the first budget calculation to a tax roll decline of $1 million.

Burke said although they have reached a tentative agreement on a number of issues, they are still trying to settle salary increases with the teachers union.

According to the district, they have 9,907 employees, which includes 5,250 instructional staff. The average salary of a teacher with benefits during the 2011-2012 school year is $62,142. That salary is for a 7-1/2 hour day for 196 days.

Burke said they hope to improve safety, reading and math initiatives, equal access to accelerated programs, along with intensive assistance to get every child on grade level and reducing the achievement gap.

He said he has a desire to remain an A district with the approved budget.

“I am hoping we are able to do that with the efforts we are making this year,” he said.