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School Board approves a $1.9 billion budget

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Sep 9, 2021

The School Board of Lee County approved a $1.9 billion budget during its final budget hearing Wednesday night.

“This district is a massive size and carries out so many different functions,” Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage said. “It is a dynamic picture and evolves throughout the entire year constantly adjusting. There is no better way to analyze an organization than by prioritizing its funding. This is a tremendous privilege to bring this to you today.”

The millage rate approved Wednesday night by the school board includes a 3.643 required local effort millage to raise $366,456,164; 0.0748 basic discretionary millage to raise $75,242,715; 1.500 capital outlay millage to raise $150,887,798. The total 5.891 millage will raise $592,586,677.

“That is a $3.9 million increase over last year’s amount,” Budget Director Kelly Letcher said.

The school board approved a total budget of $1,933,224,843.

The final budget includes $993,126,542 for the general, or operations, fund; $91,232,166 for debt services; $569,910,650 for the capital fund; $55,376,969 for the special revenue – grants fund; $67,149,584 for the special revenue – food service fund and $156,428,932 for the internal service fund.

Letcher said each part of the budget is earmarked for specific purposes. The general fund is geared towards the education of students and operating expenses of the district; debt service goes towards the payment of debt; capital is used to build schools, buy equipment, maintenance and safety items for schools; food service supports breakfast and lunches for students; special revenue are for grants received and earmarked for certain services and internal service accounts for all insurance costs for the district.

Board member Chris Patricca asked if the budget supports increases in health insurance costs, since they are self insured given the increase in cost associated with COVID instances with employees.

“Do we have the budget to cover it if it continues to be as high as it is now,” she asked.

Chief Financial Officer Dr. Ami Desamours said they did incorporate $7.2 million additional in the budget, which was negotiated and agreed to last year to mitigate any increases in premiums for employees to help cover those claim costs.

“However with our second round here in the pandemic going there is concern that health insurance claims will continue to rise throughout this time, which may present some additional issue in terms of health insurance fund and our health insurance cost,” she said. “At this point, I think it was a couple of weeks ago as of Aug. 22, we knew that there was about $5.2 million of claims to our health insurance related to COVID, and that was just as of August, but that went all the way back to March of last year.”

Desamours said they continue to look at different ways to mitigate the increased cost, including help from ESSER to cover those costs.

The general fund is 51 percent of the total budget and supports more than 96,000 students, as well as continued resources for reading initiatives at the elementary level; continued additional 30 minutes at lower performing elementary schools and ESOL supports for children for whom English is not their primary language.

The Florida Education Finance Program, Letcher said makes up a big piece of the general fund. She said currently the district has received $774.7 million in total FEFP revenue.

“If we don’t approve the local required effort of the millage rate we stand to lose $338 million from the FEFP,” she said. “The FEFP is a $11.2 million increase from last year. That is a 1.31 percent increase in per pupil funding. I will remind you that last year there was an executive order put into place and we did see a decline last year in students due to COVID. The governor had put an executive order in place that no school district would lose funding based on the loss of students. That generated $14.2 million that we got to keep last year when the students didn’t show.”

The district is looking at $6.1 million that will go out to private school scholarships and a $8.2 million reduction in class size allocation, which is generating $8,033 per FTE with a base student allocation of $4,379.91, an increase of $53.42.

“The state is funding 43 percent of the FEFP with our taxes generating the other 57 percent,” Letcher said.

As far as the district’s operating revenues, 57.50 percent comes from local dollars, 41.97 percent comes from state dollars and .54 percent comes from federal dollars. Letcher said 73 percent of the general fund budget goes to instruction, or direct school expenses.

The district’s contingency/reserves currently sits at a little more than 3 percent of new revenue. The reserves are required to protect the district’s financial position, Letcher said. She said they have about $17.8 million set aside for future reduction and needs.

As far as food service, every child, at no additional cost to the parent, receives breakfast and lunch, which is part of the community eligibility program.

The capital budget, which has a major focus on safety and security upgrades, maintenance and renovations of existing buildings and technology. The five year capital plan includes one new elementary school, two new middle schools, one new high school, two pre-K-eighth grade schools, two rebuilds and four additions.

“We are currently at 5.2 percent at reserves,” Letcher said.

Letcher said the roll back rate is the millage rate when applied to the current year tax roll net any adjustments of growth would raise the same dollar amount in the prior year.

The roll back rate for this year is 5.7125 mills and the millage rate proposed for this year was 5.891, which is a 3.12 percent increase over the roll back rate. Letcher said the required local effort portion of the roll back rate is 1.40 percent of the roll back increase.

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

The required local effort millage rate is required for the district to levy is 62 percent of the total millage.

This year the tax roll is at $1.4 billion, an 8.494 percent increase over last years tax roll.

The required local effort is 3.643 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which includes a .001 prior period millage, which is the millage rate that last year the district should have received.

“When all the final payments were made, we did not receive it, so they put it in there this year,” Letcher said. “We are down .167 from last year’s millage rate in our required local effort.”

The discretionary millage rate is .748 mills, which it has been the last two years, and the capital millage rate is 1.500, again the same as previous years.

The total mills for this year is 5.891, which is a decrease from last year’s 6.058.

Letcher said when their tax roll goes up, the millage rate goes down.

When we talk about what does this really mean for our taxpayers because that is really who pays this part of it,” she said. “With the 8.9 percent increase in the tax roll, somebody’s house who is $100,000, their new value is $108,490. Last year they would have paid $605.80 and this year they are paying $639.11. They are going to see a $33.31 increase in their school district portion of their taxes from last year.”

For those who have a $200,000 value of their home, the new value would be $216,980. Last year that homeowner would have paid $1,211.60, compared to this year’s $1,278.23, a $66.63 increase.

The Save Your Home caps a Homesteaded homeowner at a 3 percent increase.