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County school board approves tentative budget

By MEGHAN BRADBURY / news@breezenewspapers.com - | Aug 2, 2021

The Lee County School Board approved a tentative budget of nearly $1.8 billion during its first of two public hearings on July 27.

The tentative budget includes a $987,903,227 general, or operating, fund; $91,788,385 debt service; $525,565,097 capital fund; $52,132,474 special revenue — grants fund; $63,247,025 special revenue — food service fund and $155,547,953 internal service fund for a total budget of $1,876,184,161.

The millage rates approved include the Required Local Effort millage of 3.643 that would raise $366,456,164; basic discretionary mileage of .0748 that would generate $75,242,715, the capital outlay is 1.500 mills that would raise $150,877,798.

The total millage is 5.891 which would raise $592,586,677. Budget Director Kelly Letcher said that it is a $30.9 million increase over last year.

Letcher said the current year roll back rate is 5.7125 and this year’s proposed millage rate is 5.891, a slight decrease but not the rollback rate, the millage at which the same amount of revenue would be raised.

“The new millage rate is a decrease of .167 mills from the previous year millage rate. It is a 3.12 percent increase over the roll back rate,” she said.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable property valuation. When taxable property valuation rises, property owners pay more, even if the tax rate remains the same.

The required local effort portion is one the district is required to levy, which is 62 percent of the total millage rate, Letcher said.

“Our tax roll rate is $104.8 billion, which is an 8.49 percent increase over FY20-21,” she said. “When doing a millage comparison, you can see the required local effort millage is at 3.643. That includes a .001 prior year adjustment, which is an adjustment that is made when we don’t get the amount that they thought we should when it was generated. That is a decrease of .167 from the previous year.”

The Florida Education Finance Program is how dollars are generated. To participate, the district must levy the required local effort portion of the taxes and in doing so $333 million of state funding goes to the district. Letcher said the second calculation is generating $774.7 million, which is $11.2 million increase from the pervious year.

“However it is a 1.31 percent decrease in (per pupil) funding,” she said. “I do want to point out that the reason it is showing a decrease in funding is because of the governor’s executive order where he basically held us harmless and it generated $14.2 million for us last year even though our FTE dropped.”

Letcher explained that millage rates are decreasing as the tax roll increases. She explained that a taxpayer who has a house valued at $100,000 would have a new net value of $108,490. When applied to the new millage rate, that property owner would see an increase of $33.31. A person who is homesteaded with Save Our Homes would only see a 3 percent tax increase due to the tax cap. In other words a Homesteaded house valued at $100,000 would have a new net value of $103,00, a $5.15 increase.

The special meeting went into further detail of how the budget breaks down.

Letcher said each one of the funds is earmarked for a specific purpose. The General Fund is for education of students and operating expenses of the district. The General Fund is the major source of revenue, with 53 percent of the budget supporting more than 96,000 students. Some of the initiatives include reading initiatives at the elementary level, continue additional 30 minutes at select elementary school and support of ESOL supports.

The debt service fund is used for payment of debt and the capital fund is used to build schools, buy equipment and provide maintenance and safety services.

The five-year plan includes one new elementary school, two new middle schools, one new high school, two PK-8, two rebuilds and four additions. Local property tax and sales tax are the sole source of this.

Chief Finance Officer Dr. Ami Desamours said right now they are at the tip in terms of the reserves of what they want to keep in their budget. She said they will reexamine any assumptions they have made within their five- to 10-year capital plan in regards to new school projects as a no go, or go project with the school board.

In addition, food service supports breakfast and lunch programs for all students; special revenue federal funds that must be used for the specific purpose of the grant and internal service are accounts for the insurance costs of the district.

Letcher said they do have about $6.1 million in the current tentative budget that the board is approving for scholarships, which she anticipates will increase.

The budget includes a $8.3 million decrease in class size funding, which is about $8,033 per FTE and $4,372.91 base student allocation, which is $53.42 increase over last year.

The meeting also touched upon contingency and reserves, which Letcher said is really needed in the district to protect its financial position. Letcher said the contingency represents 3 percent of the new revenue. In the back of the budget, she said they have set aside $14.8 million for future reductions and needs.

“We are not sure our FTE is going to go to the amount the state has given to us. We want to make sure to hold money in the back so we don’t have to go back to the schools to make adjustments,” she said, as well as account for more growth during the year.

When the voucher increases, money is set aside in the back to cover increase as well.

The second and final budget hearing will be held on Sept. 8 at 5:05 p.m.