After shearing the bottom line over the spring and summer, the Gulf County School Board readied for fall last week.

After shearing the bottom line over the spring and summer, the Gulf County School Board readied for fall last week.

The board adopted a tentative budget and millage rate during its regular meeting last week, with taxpayers seeing a 1 percent rise in property taxes for the coming fiscal year.

“We are still below the rollback rate even though the state raised the required local effort,” said district financial officer Sissy Worley.

The rollback rate is the millage at which the school district would raise the same amount of taxes as the current fiscal year.

A mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value.

The mill declined in worth to the school board – which has differing mandates assessing property values for budgetary reasons – by just over $2,000, less than two tenths of one percent.

School board budgets are different from other taxing authorities in that most of the leeway in numbers is removed by Tallahassee.

The Florida Legislature each year sets two of the three primary components of school funding in the FEFP, or Florida Education Finance Program.

And this year, while the state boosted revenue in some areas, it was balanced by cuts in other areas, deputy superintendent of schools Sara Joe Wooten said.

The primary component, Required Local Effort, is that which the district must raise to receive any state funding under FEFP.

That component, set by state lawmakers this spring, went up from 4.838 mills to 4.870, an increase of two-thirds of a percent from the current fiscal year, or .032 in mills.

Discretionary millage, that used for essential school operations, remained the same, as it did for all districts, .748 mills.

The Gulf County School Board, for the first time in more than four years, increased the one component of the millage rate over which it has any say, Local Capital Improvement, or bricks and mortar dollars.

With buildings in the district aging – the newest public schools are more than 40 years old – and little prospect on the state or local level for major capital funding for a new school or consolidated system, board members felt they had no choice but to increase LCI to address needs.

The addition of .045 mills to the existing .400 mills increases LCI 11.25 percent and an additional $59,669 in bricks and mortar funding.

Those funds will be used for repairs and improvements to roofs, doors, covered play areas, flooring, lighting and fire alarms.

The school millage also includes for the next four years a voter-approved additional mill in operating revenue.

The school millage rate will increase from 6.986 to 7.063, bringing the ad valorem budget to $9.511 million, an increase of $87,434 dollars.

“We continue to be vigilant about where our costs are,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton.

The School Board will hold its first public meeting on the budget at 5:15 p.m. ET Monday in its meeting room on Middle School Road in Port St. Joe.

Health insurance

Todd Torgersen from Coastal Insurance Services, Inc., the district’s consultant for insurance, provided an update on health insurance.

In short, the district is in a tough spot and employees on the district’s insurance can expect an increase in premiums of at least 20 percent in the coming year.

“The claims experience now is pretty terrible,” Torgersen said. “Our experience is above target.”

Also driving the problem, Torgersen said, is that some of the plans offered by the district, particularly ones with low deductibles and high premiums, were “long in the tooth.”

He said the district would pass a government two-pronged test on offering affordable coverage under so-called Obamacare, but said a government delay in full implementation combined with the claims history gave the district a window to plan for the future to curb increases.

“We have some room, but we need to plan,” Torgersen said. “This will continue to be a problem.”

As premiums on plans increase, those considered “Cadillac” plans with high premiums and low deductibles might very well fail the federal government’s mandates on affordability, even with the School Board kicking in $550 a month.

“What we are doing for employees now is the highest in this area among districts,” Norton said. “We are at the high end of what we can offer.”

Torgersen said he continued to work with the district insurance committee to identify plans – of note, he said, were Health Savings Account plans – that were affordable and provided adequate coverage.

He said a trend in health insurance is also to move toward an emphasis on wellness, preventative care.

“You want to mitigate demand by improved health,” Torgersen said.

The committee will continue to research options to bring to the board at a future date, possibly winnowing the plans by eliminating or replacing some.

“The game plan is to find plans that meet everybody’s needs and offer plans that are affordable,” Torgersen said.