The Gulf County School Board on Tuesday approved a tentative millage rate for the coming budget year which will slightly lower taxes for most taxpayers.

The Gulf County School Board on Tuesday approved a tentative millage rate for the coming budget year which will slightly lower taxes for most taxpayers.

The board had until Friday to approve a millage to submit to the Property Appraiser; the millage will be that reflected in Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices going out next month.

The board can still lower the millage, but at this point can not raise it.

The millage will fall 8.38 percent from 7.084 to 6.536 mills.

A mill is equal to $1,000 per every $100,000 of appraised taxable personal property.

The margin of any tax decrease for property owners can be found within the margin between the 14 percent by which property values increased for district calculations and the 12.5 percent revenues will increase.

The tentative millage is 3.34 percent above the rollback, that millage at which the district would collect the identical amount of dollars as collected this year.

“There will be a miniscule ad valorem tax cut for taxpayers,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “We work to hold to or lessen the burden on ad valorem taxpayers.”

The board’s first public hearing on the budget will be in early September.

In large measure, the reduction in the millage comes courtesy of state lawmakers, who each spring during the legislative session set the major components of the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) to fund public schools.

The largest component, Required Local Effort, was reduced from 4.633 mills to 4.108 mills, a drop of nearly 13 percent.

The district must levy the RLE to receive state funding.

Lawmakers also set the discretionary spending component, equal for all districts at .748 mills.

The school board has sway only over the Local Capital Improvement (LCI), or millage for bricks-and-mortar dollars.

The board chose to maintain the same LCI millage, .680, which is less than half what the district is legally allowed to levy.

Since voters approved an additional one mill operating levy more than eight years ago, the board has pledged to leave one mill of LCI on the table.

The past two years, with growing infrastructure needs, are the first the district has moved ever so slightly above the half mill.

The district’s LCI remains one of the, it not the, lowest in the state.

“We held (LCI) millage to the same as previous years and the state actually cut theirs (RLE),” Norton said of the overall millage reduction.

The major items for the LCI dollars include new gym lights and lunch room ovens at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, basketball goals at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, enclosing the playground area at Wewahitchka Elementary School, and one new bus.

The board on Tuesday approved a contract with Fisher Construction on the WES enclosed playground, with construction beginning later this month with a completion date in December.

The budget fell into place this year, but there is a major concern about next year.

Much of the movement on education during the legislative session was troubling for public school systems and particularly for rural school systems.

The special session, and deals worked out among state leaders, assuaged much of the potential pain which might have been inflicted in this year’s budget, but next year, Norton said, who knows.

“Without legislative help, we know we’re facing a three-quarters of a million dollar shortfall for next year,” Norton said.

Scholarship program

Lori Price, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, informed the board that the district is entering into a scholarship program with Gulf Coast State College.

Details have yet to be finalized, but in short strokes under the program three rising sixth-graders would be identified on each end of the county.

Those students would be assigned a mentor and depending on progress through high school graduation would receive a scholarship to Gulf Coast.

Back to school

Teachers return to work Aug. 7 with students arriving a week later, on Monday, Aug. 14.

At this time, Norton said, the district is running behind on its projections of student enrollment, but “the first day we hope we hit our number.”