Gulf County voters provided four more years for Gulf District Schools on Tuesday.
On day in which one of five voters went to the polls, voters approved continuing for another four years the one mill additional operating levy first approved by voters four years ago.
That levy was due to sunset during the current fiscal year.
A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in taxable personal property.
The outcome was 54.88 percent of the vote, or 972 votes, in favor of the levy with 45 percent, 799 votes, voting against continuing the additional mill.
The turnout was light.
Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon had predicted early in the day that the one question ballot would draw between 12-20 percent of the vote.
The percentage was 19.36, or 1.771 of the county’s 9,149 registered voters.
“I wouldn’t say we received a mandate, but we got a nod from the voters to continue the path established for the high standard delivery of education that our children can get from Gulf County schools,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton.
“I respect the process and these are tight economic times, but the positive effects of this vote will be felt in the very near future. I can assure the voters that we will not raise the (Local Capital Improvement) millage the board could have raised by one mill and I commend the voters for providing this alternative means of support.”
The district still faces budget cuts.
Norton and financial officer Sissy Worley have said the district will face a budget shortfall of roughly $500,000, necessitating some cuts.
But the levy was seen as a way to avert drastic cutbacks that would resulted if the district did not receive the additional mill, worth roughly $1.3 million this year.
The district has seen the value of the mill shrink the past four years, realizing approximately $4 million less over the past four years than projected when the district first went before voters in 2009.
In addition, declining enrollment – 400 students in the past decade – and the per-pupil funding each student carries under the state’s funding formula for public schools had feasted on the district’s bottom line.
Despite that, district officials argued in the run-up to Tuesday’s election, the district remains a high-performing and honor roll district, with one of the highest graduation rates in the state, among the lowest dropout rates and an exploding number of high school students in college dual-enrolled courses.
“We turn out some pretty good kids,” said School Board member Billy Quinn, Jr.
Norton and the School Board had warned that should the levy not pass it would have a dramatic impact on staffing, with the cuts equal to 20 percent of the workforce, academic offerings and extracurricular activities.
“This is about those little ones,” said board member Linda Wood.
The board also agreed to promises made four years ago to continue to maintain the lowest LCI millage in the state – LCI, the only component of funding over which the board has say, is for bricks and mortars and can not be used for operating expenses – among other cost-cutting measures.
It remains unclear where and how the district will meet the currently projected budget shortfall of $500,000.