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School District budget sees increases, challenges

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jun 30, 2022

Although the preliminary budget for the School District of Lee County has some increases, it has been met by quite a few challenges as well.

Budget Director Kelly Letcher said the district gets its funding from the Florida Education Finance Program (FEEP), which is a calculation done by the state. For fiscal year 2023, the district allocation from the state and local funds is $842,832,486, which is a really good budget from them.

“That is a $63 million increase over fiscal year (20)22. While that sounds really good, some things that came along with that,” Letcher said.

The preliminary budget includes an increased base student allocation of $214.49, which is an increase from $4,372.91 to $4,587.40.

Letcher said there is a reduction in the district’s cost differential by .0044, which she said is basically the cost of living in Lee County.

“They are doing some changes. A couple of years ago they actually proposed to make some changes that did not go through. They did it this year and they are doing some leveling out. So for Lee County they have reduced. That reduction would be about $2 million to us. However this year, they put a hold harmless, so we don’t see that reduction this year. I do fully suspect that next year we will see that reduction,” she said.

The preliminary budget includes an increase in unweighted FTE of 2,699 students.

“We have an FTE projection of $99,908, so we are just under $100,000 for next year that they are proposing that we will be at. Some of the pieces that are within that are the teacher salary allocation. We did receive an increase in that for a total of $8 million,” Letcher said.

The preliminary budget includes an increase in teacher salary allocation for maintenance and growth. Letcher said they have to get the base teacher salary to $47,500.

Letcher said the federal government has been talking about a minimum of $15 an hour, which was state mandated that all school district’s must meet that by Oct. 1, 2022.

“In order to do that they provided additional funding for districts to give their employees up to that $15 an hour,” she said.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship and McKay is also among a challenge. In May of this year the school board was told that the McKay Scholarship Program and the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program grew substantially and ended up costing the district about $12 million.

“This year we have over $20 million between our Family Empowerment and our McKay. Next year McKay will go into Family Empowerment and will be one big lump sum of money that we do estimate will go well over the $20 million. We have to pull money for that. That is part of the $63 million that will have to be pulled,” Letcher said.

There is also an increase in retirement rates. Based on current employees that is a $5.3 million increase that will have to come out of the general fund.

The preliminary budget also includes an estimated $117 million for debt services, which depends on COPs (certificates of participation) and repayment. The capital budget has an estimated $997,620,655, which includes estimated $305,500 in COPs, capital millage tax of $184,873,548, sales tax of $108,631,948 and impact fees of $34,605,000.

“It’s a nice increase in revenue. Expenditures are going up with building costs. It is going to help us with increased cost for sure,” Letcher said.

The food services portion of the budget has an increase of $6.8 million over last year for a total of $74,486,495.

The internal service fund has a $9 million increase over fiscal year 2022 for $165,716,227. This includes an increase in health insurance contribution, as well as the estimated increase in fund balance.

Other budget items:

• Safe School Allocation: increase by $945,000, a good increase, as the district’s plan is for more than a million already.

• Digital Classroom: removed from the calculation, a loss of $123,000 for this year’s budget

• Student Reserve Allocation: the state had not calculated enough money to cover the growth in students. There is normally approximately $8 million, with the district seeing another $2 million in the current year.

• Turnaround Supplement: $843,000 will be reduced from calculation as the district has no turnaround schools.

Letcher said the tax roll dollars came in really nice this year. She said the first calculation for discretionary millage was $83 million, which has increased to $92 million with the preliminary from the property appraiser.

In addition, the fiscal year 2023 conference report showed $115 billion, compared to the first conference report of $104 billion. Letcher said it is now estimated at $128 billion, which is a big increase.

The capital outlay millage originally would have generated $166 million, which now with the preliminary from the property appraiser now generating $184 million.

The tentative budget hearing for fiscal year 2023 is July 26 and the final budget hearing is scheduled for Sept. 1.