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School board adopts $1.9 billion budget

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Sep 16, 2020

news@breezenewspapers.com

The School District of Lee County has approved a $1.9 billion budget which will support 119 schools and more than 96,000 students.

The finance department provided a presentation this week, which broke down the budget into sections to further explain funding sources.

Director of Budget Kelly Letcher said the roll back rate is basically the millage that would produce the same dollars as the district received in the previous year. The roll back this year, taking into account increased property valuations and new construction, was calculated to be 5.9168 mills.

“We are actually levying 6.058, which is an increased of 2.39 percent over the roll back rate,” Letcher explained. “The Required Local Effort part of that is 1.52 percent of that increase, which is the part that the legislature requires that you levy in order to participate in the Florida Education Finance Program.”

Letcher explained numbers.

“In the current year our tax roll is $96,587,103,127, which is a $5.7 million increase over last year’s tax roll, which is a 6.32 percent increase,” she said.

The Required Local Effort Mills this year is 3.810, compared to last year’s RLE of 3.8990, which is a decrease of .089. The discretionary rate remains the same at .748 mills and the capital millage remains the same at 1.500.

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

Letcher said the rates will generate $25.6 million more than last year due to an increase in the tax roll. However, due to how the Florida Education Finance Program works, as the tax roll increases, the RLE really does not generate any additional dollars for Lee County, but rather reduces the state portion to the district.

This is done to provide funding equity across the entire state.

Chief Financial Officer Dr. Ami Desamours said the tax rate itself is a decrease, an effect given what has happened with the taxable values. Still, the amount of taxes paid this year will be more than the amount most property owners paid last year for schools.

“Even though the rate decreased, the rate didn’t decrease at the same, or greater percentage, than the tax rate increased,” Desamours said.

The total taxable valuation this year is at about $96.6 billion, which represents about a 6.3 percent increase. She said though the millage rate has decreased about 1.5 percent, the larger increase in the tax roll indicates that most property owners will see a slight increase in their property taxes.

The district provided a visual of what that may look like for property owners. An old taxable valuation of $100,000 would increase 6.32 percent to $106,320. The old tax rate of 6.147 generated $614.70, compared to the new tax rate of 6.058 that generates $644.09 with a difference of $29.39 for the year.

There is a 3 percent maximum increase for those under the Save Our Homes amendment, which has an increase between $11.59 to $20.77 for the year based on a house value of $100,000 to $200,000.

The RLE, and basic discretionary are for the general fund and the capital outlay for the capital fund. The RLE is set by the State Legislature and the basic discretionary and capital outlay are the maximum set in statues.

The amount to be raised for the RLE is $353,276,990; the basic discretionary amount to be raised is $69,357,268 and the capital outlay amount to be raised is $139,085,429. The total amount to be raised is $561,719,687.

The final budget of $1,915,025,846 is broken down into the General Fund of $964,824,078; debt services of $104,532,235; capital of $543,291,246; special revenue – grants of $85,404,584; special revenue – food service of $71,679,802 and internal services of $145,293,901.

The general fund, which pays for operations, is the largest fund, which is 50 percent of the budget and supports more than 96,000 students. The targeted initiatives include teacher salary increases from the state, reading initiatives at the elementary level, the continuation of additional 30 minutes at select elementary schools, standardized middle school schedules and additional ESOL supports.

The Florida Education Finance Program, which is the biggest part of the funding piece totals $765.5 million of the general fund in total FEFP revenue, which is a $30.6 million increase from the previous year. There was also an increase of 2.3 percent in per pupil funding with 1 percent of the increase for the Teacher Salary Allocation.

In addition, approximately $4.5 million of that total is anticipated for private school scholarships. Letcher said they also have a $7,969 per FTE, which is an increase of $181 over last year.

The Base Student Allocation is $4,319.49, which is an increase of $40 from last year.

Of the FEFP, 45 percent is state funded and 55 percent funded through taxes.

Desamours said at the tentative budget time, they set aside an additional $15 million to cover expenditures related to COVID.

“We still have those dollars set aside in the budget under specific expenditure categories that really relate to things like custodial services,” she said. “If we need to hire additional temporary custodians to make sure we can keep up with the necessary cleaning if some custodians call out, or if we need additional help, you all approved a contract for us to do so at the last board meeting.”

In addition, funds have been set aside for fogging and PPE supplies for all of the schools and departments.

Desamours said they will come to the board monthly to share what those expenditures look like.

“That dollar amount we have budgeted at this point is a conservative dollar amount. We will be able to monitor those outcomes during the year and be able to adjust accordingly and report to you where we are in actuality,” she said.

Desamours also highlighted where COVID is affecting the district in its budget. Such things as personal protective equipment, deep cleaning and disinfecting and fogging is being taken out of the General Fund; student technology is being taken out of the capital fund; hot spots are being covered by the Special Revenues, CARES dollars and mobile feeding is coming out of food services.

The budget hearing also addressed the district’s food service portion of the budget, which is $71.7 million and includes breakfast and lunch for every child in the district at no cost to the parents. Letcher said the funds are at a federal reimbursement and right now they are feeding all of their face-to-face and Lee Home Connect students.

The Special Revenue portion of the budget includes the CARES Act, which has six parts. Those include the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund of $2,016,129; Building K012 CTE Infrastructure of $279,003; Rapid Credentialing (Postsecondary) of $367,492; Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund of $1,007,755 and the Office of Head Start with $743,471 going towards Head Start/Early Head Start and $63,000 going towards Early Head Start and Child Care Partnership.

Letcher said they recently were notified that they are going to get an additional $800,000 for the GEER fund for PPE supplies.