Taxpayers will see even more of a drop in school taxes than initially projected.
The Gulf County School Board approved a tentative millage rate that will see school taxes drop even more than preliminary numbers released two weeks ago indicated.
The biggest drop was additional shaving of the required local effort (RLE) component of the funding formula with the state adjusting the number down to accurately reflect the preliminary tax roll submitted by Property Appraiser Mitch Burke earlier this month.
As with the other two major components of a school district budget, the RLE, the largest component representing what the district must collect locally to access state funding, is established each spring by the Florida Legislature based on projections of enrollment, taxable property values and other factors.
However, the RLE is adjusted in July based on comparisons of the property tax roll to those projections. The result for Gulf District Schools was a further decrease in RLE, carving it by 5.44 percent.
“The required local effort came down more than we expected, which is good,” said district finance officer Sissy Worley.
Discretionary funding, that money allowed the district to sustain day-to-day operations – primarily workforce salaries and benefits – remained the same.
An adjustment due to prior year changes in property tax collections also remained the same.
In the one component over which the School Board actually has a voice, capital outlay, or bricks and mortar, the small increase in property values this year allowed the board to take that millage while still collecting the funds needed to pressing concerns, particularly beginning the process of churning an aging bus fleet.
The overall millage rate – including the voter-approved one mill additional operating levy – for the coming year will be 6.938, down from 7.063, a drop of just under 2 percent.
A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable property.
Taxing authorities must submit a tentative millage rate by Aug. 1. Those are the numbers taxpayers will see on their annual Truth in Millage statements to be mailed after Aug. 1.
The millage can not go up after that date but can come down, though school district budgets are unlike any other in that the board members have little to no say over the major components of the funding formula.
Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said that in lieu of assessing the maximum capital outlay millage under law – 1.25 mills – the board has kept the component down to mitigate the one mill operational levy.
“This board has decided to park one mill of what it could levy,” Norton said.
The board this year brought the capital outlay millage up to address the bus fleet after years of maintaining one of the lowest, if not the lowest, LCI millage in the state.
This year the board moved LCI over half a mill - .576 – for the first time in at least seven years.
The major reason was the need to spend $292,000 on two new school buses to get the district back on a rotation of replacing school buses which the district has not done in nearly a decade.
The current bus fleet averages 11-12 years of age, said transportation director Greg Layfield.
The district also proposed to spend $115,000 in new lighting for Shark Stadium in Port St. Joe.
The balance of the LCI funds will go to annual upkeep and maintenance costs as well as insurance.
The first public hearing on the Gulf District School budget is 5:15 p.m. ET Monday in the School Board meeting room at the district offices on Middle School Road in Port St. Joe.
Honoring Sara Joe Wooten
The board unanimously approved naming the current Office of Instructional Services in honor of Sara Joe Wooten.
Wooten, the assistant superintendent of instruction for more than a decade, is retiring next month after more than 40 years in education, most of them in Gulf County.
“I can’t think of a more appropriate honor,” said School Board member George Cox, noting Wooten’s work bringing technology and instructional upgrades and millions in grants to the district.
“She has spent many days and nights in that building.”
*In other announcements during Monday’s meeting, the 2014-15 school year begins for students Aug. 18.