Passed a tiny increase in basic spending by state lawmakers, the Gulf County School Board will soon vote on whether to increase the millage rate by less than 2 percent.
In year in which the assessed property value for the school district increased by 6.45 percent, the proposed increase in dollars would be 7.72 percent, bringing the budget to $957,123.71, excluding federal funding.
The proposed budget, to be considered for advertisement later this month by the Gulf County School Board, includes a millage increase from 6.536 mills to 6.626, the increase entirely focused on the district’s local infrastructure needs.
A mill represents $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property tax.
The board will propose to increase the lone funding component in the Florida Education Finance Program over which has control, local capital improvement, by just over a quarter of a mill.
Over the past decade the board has resisted levying much more than one half mills in LCI, part of a pledge to voters when they approved an additional mill operating levy.
Voters have renewed the pledge twice, every four years since.
Last year, the LCI millage was .680, which still remained among the lowest in the state; a district may levy up to 1.5 mills for LCI.
“We’re trying to keep (LCI) under one mill,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “We are very conscious of not going over a full mill.”
The LCI millage rate for the fiscal year that began Sunday is 0.962.
That will generate a 34 percent increase in LCI dollars.
And, the district needs the additional dollars as it faces myriad issues, the product of aging infrastructure.
Of immediate need is replacing the heating/air conditioning at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High and repairing the larger of the two domes at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School; both building nearly 50 years old.
Norton said while the dome work is not technically an “emergency, we are on notice” of issues concerning supporting beams.
The cost is estimated at $170,000, according to an estimate in the agenda for last week’s regular meeting.
Likewise, the air conditioning problems at WHS are urgent and will cost an estimated $150,000 out of this year’s budget as part of what Norton called a two-year approach to replacing the entire HVAC system.
A big ticket item is the purchase of four buses, which has been overdue and much-discussed the past three years as the district’s bus fleet piled up the mileage on already aging vehicles.
Norton said the district spent so much on repairs and maintenance of the current buses over the past year the district could have purchased a new bus.
The four new buses will cost $435,000.
The district had submitted a pre-application to Triumph Gulf Coast for the purchase of six buses, but the application was deemed ineligible by Triumph staff.
“We are going to buy four this year, two for (Wewahitchka) and two for Port St. Joe,” Norton said, “and next year we should be able to get back on a schedule of just buying one.
“Next year, I think we will be positioned to significantly cut LCI. We just have a lot of needs right now.”
In addition to the buses, the district will outfit each with operational cameras.
Operational cameras are just one part of the effort to improve school safety, with the board approving several expenditures out of state school safety funding Thursday.
One was the approval of a contract with the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office to place five deputies in the schools beginning with the coming school year.
There will be a School Resource Deputy in each school with an additional officer operating as a supervisor.
Marked patrol vehicles will be in front of each school every day in session.
In addition, the board approved the hiring of the two mental health counselors, one for each end of the county, which were funded under the state’s new school safety plan.
Toss in $600,000 in LCI money, some of which will be reimbursed by the state, for, among other items, additional lighting, fire alarms, etc., at the schools district-wide as Florida and district seeks to “harden” schools.
The exact level of funding the district will receive to harden schools will not be known until the end of the year.
In total, under FEFP, state lawmakers determine two of the three main components for school funding during the legislative session each year.
The required local effort, that which the district must levy to receive any state funding, went down slightly in Gulf County, 4.9 percent by millage, 1.9 percent by dollars.
State lawmakers also provided an increase in the base funding per student of just 47 cents, diverting nearly all new education funding toward safe school initiatives in the wake of the Parkland school massacre in the middle of the session.
Much of that general fund money from Tallahassee also flows in categoricals, further constraining any local flexibility on spending.
The discretionary funding component is uniform across all school districts.
Local school officials can only impact LCI funding.