School district taxes set to rise less than 2 mills

The School Board will meet at The Landings on July 31 to hold a public hearing on the tentative 2013 fiscal year budget. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Because the Florida Legislature approved an extra $100, or about 3%, in base funding per pupil statewide for the 2012-13 school year, the Sarasota County School Board has no choice but to raise its required local millage rate for the 2013 fiscal year, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Al Weidner told the board July 24.

Although the final FY 2013 millage rates will not be adopted until Sept. 11, the School Board voted unanimously to advertise a total of 7.816 mills in advance of a July 31 public hearing on the budget. Of that total, the local required millage rate is 4.568, up from 4.387 last year.

The vote was 4-0, as board member Carol Todd was absent from the meeting.

The increase of 0.181 mills over the total FY 2012 millage rate of 7.635 would mean the owner of a $100,000 house would pay about $18 more per year in property taxes, Weidner pointed out.

Those taxes account for about 36% of the district’s total revenue, with state sources contributing 14%, federal funding making up about 3% and local sales tax revenue accounting for about 2%.

The FY 2013 appropriations budget presented to the School Board was $642,583,528. That includes $173,196,572 in the Capital Projects Fund. The tentative general fund amount for FY 2013 is $375,143,854.

Weidner also pointed out that the value of all Sarasota County property began falling in 2008. That year saw a decrease of 10.93%, whereas the decrease for 2012 is 0.45%.

Early predictions for 2013 call for the value to decline again he said, but “I think we’re looking at [its staying] level or maybe going up.”

Weidner also pointed out that while the tentative FY 2013 budget calls for the School Board to take $14.6 million from its reserve fund to cover a gap in funding, “that’s a worst-case scenario, and I do not expect us to use anywhere near that.”

For the 2012 fiscal year budget, Weidner noted, the board had approved taking $13 million from reserves, but it appears only $1.2 million will be needed.

Weidner also pointed out that negotiations with the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association had been completed in May, with the result reflected in the tentative budget.

The collective bargaining agreement for the 2013 fiscal year calls for an average non-recurring bonus of 2.2%. This is the fourth year for which employees have had no raises, the Executive Summary notes.

“Despite the continuation of frozen salaries the agreement was ratified by more than 96 percent of employees,” the Executive Summary of the budget says.

During his remarks to the board, Weidner also pointed out that the district’s general fund is down about 16% from its 2007 level — before the start of the Great Recession.

That represents about $120.5 million in budget reductions over the past four years, the Executive Summary says.

Since the 2007-08 school year, the summary says, the district has eliminated 686 positions.

The district also has lost enrollment. The student population numbered 42,460 in the 2006-07 school year; this year, the projection is for 41,985 students.

District staff has pointed out that the recession prompted a number of families to leave Sarasota County, as parents searched for new job opportunities.

The district’s Capital Projects Fund also has declined 54% from FY 2008 to FY 2013, the Executive Summary shows, or about $89.5 million.

The summary notes that in 2009, the School Board was able to secure funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act a net interest rate of .09% to pay for the rebuilding of Booker High School in Sarasota. The rebuilding of Venice High School and the Sarasota County Technical Institute “have been financed through the issuance of Certificates of Participation at interest rates ranging from 2% to 5%,” the summary adds.

Twenty-five percent of the workers employed on the Booker High project, the summary points out, are from the school neighborhood, while a total of 40% are from Sarasota County.

The Venice High and SCTI projects also are using local contractors, the summary says, helping “to ease the high unemployment rate in the construction sector.”

Board member Shirley Brown pointed to the total millage rates provided in the Executive Summary, going back to the 1970 fiscal year.

In the 2003 fiscal year — the first with a special, voted 1-mill tax in the district — the total millage was 9.283, she said.

(The Executive Summary says that special 1-mill tax is funding 457 positions in the district.)

The lowest level in recent years was 7.045 in the 2009 fiscal year.

Brown reiterated Weidner’s point that the millage rate would be climbing for the 2013 fiscal year because of state action. “It’s not anything the School Board is doing,” she said.

A public hearing on the tentative 2013 fiscal year budget for the Sarasota County Public Schools will be held at 5:15 p.m. July 31 in the board chambers at The Landings.