The Gulf County School Board scheduled an hour workshop Tuesday to consider matters related to recovery from Hurricane Michael.
The meeting, as it would turn out, was a tad premature.
District officials understand that at some point they are going to need to hire a consultant to work through the insurance claims, adjusters and the many layers toward reimbursement for damages wreaked by Michael.
“There will come a time very soon that we will have to hire somebody,” said board attorney Charles Costin. “We don’t have the personnel with the qualifications to administer this process.”
However, the board will have to make a decision in the near-term to either tread that path on its own or join with the Panhandle Area Education Consortium.
Gulf District Schools are among those districts who secure their insurance coverage through PAEC.
A PAEC committee comprised of representatives from the 14 counties PAEC serves has already reviewed and vetted applications for proposals for just such a role, selecting three companies to serve the consortium’s districts.
Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said the PAEC policy limit is $65 million, with the consortium yet to decide on a formula for allocation to districts impacted by Michael.
Initial numbers, Norton said, indicated the district’s share would be somewhere between $6 million to $8 million.
A preliminary review by an adjuster last month placed the district’s initial damages at $6 million, more than $5 million at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School alone.
However, that was a broad strokes analysis; PAEC adjusters are expected to perform a more thorough review in the next 7-10 days, Norton said.
And Norton said he had pause in allowing PAEC, and the Washington County District through which region-wide decisions are made, to call the shots.
“I don’t want to take away your authority,” Norton told school board members.
The importance of receiving full reimbursement from impacts and damages of Michael is essential as the district braces for impacts to revenue streams.
Property values are almost guaranteed to fall, which will impact not only property tax receipts but also the revenue generated by the one mill voter-approved operational levy.
Financial Officer Sissy Worley pegged the drop in property values at between 20-50 percent, though the number is unknown until Property Appraiser Mitch Burke certifies a preliminary tax roll in July.
The district could also see a hit if enrollment continues to trail pre-Michael levels, which were right at state projections on which funding is based.
Each full-time equivalent student brings about $4,000 to the district.
As of this week, enrollment was about 95.4 percent of pre-Michael levels, said Lori Price, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction.
That 5 percent loss in enrollment would translate into a loss of about $400,000, Norton said.
Additionally, the district faces something of an unknown in Tallahassee, with a new governor, new state school chancellor and new state chair of the board of education.
Further, the Florida Legislature cobbles together the Florida Education Finance Program each session.
And while the district has the assets to fully operate during the current fiscal year, the next fiscal year is a giant question mark.
“We are at the mercy of the Legislature,” Norton said. “It is going to take a legislative life ring.”
District officials from neighboring counties impacted by Michael have written a letter, the sentiment of which Norton aligns with, to state officials urging state lawmakers to maintain current funding levels for at least the next two years.