The Hernando County School Board is starting to review their budget in preparation for this year’s budget hearings. There was a preliminary discussion of increasing taxes to fill the expected budget shortfall. The discussion included raising the milage rate .5 or 1 mils: raising the milage rate .5 mils would generate $4.7 million and raising the milage rate 1 mil would generate $9.4 million.
The proposed 2018-2019 school budget was presented at the Hernando County School Board workshop on April 10, 2018. Kendra Sittig, Director of Budget, and Joyce McIntyre, Director of Finance and Purchasing, shared details from the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) from the 2018 legislative sessions. She also provided a timeline progression of each step of the process.
The FEFP ensures that students have access to appropriate education regardless of the economic situation or the area in which they live. FTE (Full-Time Enrollment) is based on the number of students actually enrolled in the school district. The number includes Florida Virtual School students and those who attend school while in a Department of Juvenile Justice program. A weighted FTE takes into account the extra cost involved with educating ESE students, those with limited English proficiency, PACE, and students involved in technical education programs.
The FEFP also takes into account the district cost differential (DCD), which reflects the costs of goods/services compared with wage earnings in the district and the cost of hiring qualified educators and staff. A sparsity supplement is based on the wealth of the school district compared to the number of FTE (which generates funds) in a total of three high schools.
Comparing the most recent 2017-2018 figures with the proposed figures for 2018-2019, the unweighted FTE increased by only $55.17 compared to the weighted FTE (for the specialty programs), which jumped to $72.42 over last year. The DCD dropped by 0.06%. The amount of funds that the district receives per student will drop by $2.07 for the coming year.
The total taxable value for the school district is an overall increase of 5.87% over last year or just over $548 million. However, the decrease in the DCD over the past three years means that Hernando County receives less from the State, and that money is actually sent to larger districts to help cover their funding costs. The sparsity funds do help offset some of that loss, but not significantly. Sittig said that the base FEFP is a loss of actually $15,248.19.
Another consideration is the addition of new School Resource Officers (SROs), partially paid through the Safe Schools funding ($1,314,000). The district needs approximately $750,000 more to adequately fund the program, some of which will be covered by Hernando County. Funding for SROs has been worked out through September 2018 as the nearly $890,000 is being split by the county and the school district. The County will also work with the school district to continue to make school safety a priority.
Sitting said the budget considerations are “needs based” and are sent through the department/division heads for approval before moving to the cabinet level for review. By the end of the school year, the budget department will also meet with the board to give the projections for the end of the current budget year.
The projected 2018-2019 budget is also dependent upon the certified tax rolls. The estimate will be available for review by June 1. An update on the budget will be presented at another workshop on June 26, 2018.
The certified tax roll will be available July 17. Within five days, the TRIM advertisement and notices for the hearings on the budget will be given. The budget hearings are scheduled for July 25 and Sept. 11, 2018. On Sept. 14, the Department of Education is sent the final budget from the district.
McIntyre offered two suggestions which could be considered by the School Board with regard to adding millage to the tax bill – a two-year option (for either operating or capital outlay expenditures) and a four-year option (which would allow for both types of expenditures). The district is currently set at 1.500 mils, which is equivalent to $14.2 million in revenue. An increase of .500 mils would add to the available budget by $4.7 million. If the voters approved an increase to 1.00 mil, then another $9.4 million could be added.
Every increase will affect the homeowner, and at the highest suggested amount of 1.00 mils, a homeowner would have an additional $128.98 in taxes due, for example. Increasing to 2.00 mils would be $303.98. While a significantly higher amount, it does provide the funding to pay for safety of the children in the schools. As one board member stated, it was less than $1 per day.
It is important to note that the school district’s half cent sales tax, which is earmarked for capital outlay expenses has made big gains recently. In 2017 the half cent earned $30,000-40,000 per month over the prior year’s earnings. As of Feb. 2018 there was $7.6 million ending cash on hand in the half cent sales tax fund.
To bring the proposal before the voters, Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson suggested that the August primary was the best choice. The HCSB would need to have the proposal to Anderson by June 22 so that the ballots could be printed or wait until the last week in July to have the item added to the November general election ballot.
The thought of a tax increase is not always pleasant. School Superintendent Dr. Lori Romano stated it this way, “At the end of the day, we are required to keep our students and our staff safe in our schools, and we have $22 million of needs and no funding.”
The HCSB will consider several other options such as issuing bonds or borrowing the money and call a special workshop to discuss including the measure on the primary or general election. Other school districts have put similar tax increases before the residents.