School district should be about $1.2 million in the black this budget year

Projection for the 2016-17 budget shows savings of close to $1 million

Al Weidner addresses the School Board. File photo
Al Weidner addresses the School Board. File photo

Both the current and next school year operating budgets are estimated to be in the black, the Sarasota County Schools’ deputy chief financial officer, Al Weidner, has told the School Board.

Based on the decisions of the Florida Legislature, Weidner explained to the School Board during its March 22 workshop, “we fared a little bit better than I thought we were going to.”

The district should be approximately $1.2 million in the black at the end of the current fiscal year, he added.

“One point two million is a lot overall,” Chair Shirley Brown responded. “There are a lot of people that would like to have $1.2 million.”

For the 2016-17 year, the balance should be about $948,135, according to an Executive Summary Weidner provided the board as part of the backup agenda material.

However, the next fiscal year budget does not include a salary increase, he noted, and department funding will be status quo.

The recently negotiated salary increase is reflected in the operating budget for the current fiscal year, the summary explains.

When Brown asked him about a 10-percent increase in employee health benefits for the 2016-17 year, Weidner said, “I did that to be conservative.” The district’s expenses, he explained, are contingent on the claims filed.

Weidner did note that a number of employees will be retiring after the current school year ends. The expectation is that younger people will be hired to replace them, he continued, so that could bring down the district health care costs over the next several years.

The district’s Required Local Effort millage rate is projected to decline from 4.515 this year to 4.222 for next year, Weidner continued, based on action of the Florida Legislature. That most likely will change after the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office releases the tax roll, he said. The office issues preliminary figures on June 1, with final figures following on July 1.

After those numbers become available, Weidner pointed out, the Florida Department of Education will compute the Required Local Millage rate for each district on the basis of the state’s providing 10 percent of the funding for each district for the next fiscal year. By law, only 90 percent of a district’s revenue can come from property tax collections, he added.

A chart shows the changes in student allocations through the years. Image courtesy Sarasota County Schools
A chart shows the changes in student allocations through the years. Image courtesy Sarasota County Schools

The state base allocation per student will rise only $6 for the next fiscal year, Weidner said — from $4,154 to $4,160.

“I found that a little interesting,” Brown told him. Having served in the Legislature before her election to the School Board, she added, and having followed trends of recent years, she has found the final decision on base student allocations to fall “somewhere in the middle” of what the House calls for and what the Senate wants. For 2016-17, the Senate put the allocation at $4,236, while the House figure was $4,258.

Weidner pointed to the Legislature’s decision to reduce the burden on property owners, which was reflected in the lower Required Lower Effort.

Gov. Rick Scott originally proposed that property owners shoulder more of the expense, a point to which board member Jane Goodwin alluded.

School Board member Caroline Zucker. File photo
School Board member Caroline Zucker. File photo

When board member Caroline Zucker asked about the cost per student station in the district, Weidner explained that for elementary schools, it is about $9,000. For middle schools, it is slightly less than that; for high schools, it is lower still, he said. The greater the size of the student body, he told the board, the smaller the expense, generally. Most of the district high schools have about 2,000 students, he pointed out, while the elementary schools have several hundred youngsters enrolled.

The most recent district enrollment data — from Feb. 2 — shows the largest elementary school population as 933 at Ashton in Sarasota. Wilkinson Elementary, also in Sarasota, had the lowest total: 461.

More details about the dollars

Updating figures he provided the board in February, Weidner put the estimated tax revenue at $314,759,416 for the current fiscal year — up $1,412,942 from February — based on a collection rate above 96 percent. Altogether, he said, the expected rise in revenue is about $1.5 million.

Using projections pegged to trends observed through Feb. 29, he noted, the total amount of appropriations for the current fiscal year should be $739,015 less than he predicted at the board’s Feb. 16 workshop.

For the 2016-17 fiscal year, budget documents show, total revenue is estimated at $423,915,296, a decrease of $1,126,712 from the February number as a result of the Legislature’s decision on the Required Local Effort millage rate. Total appropriations are up $658,578 from the February estimate, the agenda material says, for a total of $422,967,161.

Weidner also pointed out that while he has estimated energy costs to go down $220,922 in the 2016-17 fiscal year — based on district trends through Feb. 29 of this year — “this is one [expense] I think is going to be volatile in the future,” because of changes in the price of oil.

His estimates for the district’s unassigned fund balance at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year is up $440,826, based on legislative action, he noted. That will represent 8.3 percent of the operating budget, which is one of the best balances in the state, he added. District policy requires the unassigned fund balance to be at least 7.5 percent.

At the conclusion of his presentation, the board agreed to Weidner’s request to release the department budget allocations on March 23, with the school budgets to be turned over to principals on March 25. That will allow the schools to start advertising in late May and early June for positions they will need to fill, Weidner noted.

“You can move forward with staffing,” Brown told him.