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District pushes opening back a week

Tim Croft
tcroft@starfl.com

More prep time required.

Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton announced last week that the 2020-2021 school year, slated to begin Aug. 10, would be moved back one week.

New student orientation will now be Friday, Aug. 14 and all students will report Monday, Aug. 17.

Re-opening, Norton said, would require a few extra days of preparations.

“We need (the days),” Norton said. “The extra week off will give us a chance to tie up some loose ends.”

Pushing the re-opening of schools back accomplishes several goals for the district, Norton said.

One, it allows teachers additional planning days for instruction both in the classroom and, as it is required, distance learning.

Second, the extra days allow the district to further stockpile needed items such as hand sanitizer, cleansers, soaps, face masks, shields and the like.

Further, the short delay allows additional progress in completing ongoing work to replace the energy plants at both junior-senior high schools as well as lighting and air-quality improvements within the facilities.

The district calendar will be little impacted: in effect four planning days reserved for teachers after students leave at the end of the year have been moved to the week of Aug. 10.

Last week, the district received formal approval of its re-opening plan from the Florida Department of Education, one of the first in the state to be approved, according to school board chair Cindy Belin.

Each school’s safety plan for operations under COVID-19 can be found at www.starfl.com and The Port St. Joe Star Facebook page.

As for projected attendance, Norton said the district is currently trending toward having at least 90 percent, if not reaching 95 percent, of students projected to attend school once open.

“We are way up,” Norton said. “I think it is a good sign for us.”

Budget hearing

The Gulf County School Board on Monday held its first public hearing on the tentative budget and millage rate.

The millage rate is scheduled to drop 2.73 percent while overall revenues will increase roughly $264,000.

The overall millage rate is slated to be 6.2630.

A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable personal property.

Broken down into its components, state lawmakers lowered by 4.66 percent the Required Local Effort component, that which must be levied locally to receive state funds.

That drops that component to 3.662.

Discretionary millage is standard in all 67 school districts and county voters have supported for over a decade a one-cent additional operational mill.

That operational mill increased in line with property values, all but accounting for the district’s overall increase in revenue.

The one component over which the local school board has sway is that levied for local capital improvements, bricks and mortars: the board lowered the LCI millage by less than 1 percent to 0.847 mills.

By law, the board could levy up to 1.50 mills for LCI, but the district has maintained the low LCI has part of a pledge to voters while seeking support of the one-mill operational levy.

The decrease in school millage aligns with the 15.75 percent increase in the value of the mill compared to the prior fiscal year; roughly $275,000 for the public schools.

However, overall spending by the district will drop 9.2 percent compared to last year, the result, primarily, of Hurricane Michael-related expenditures which were roughly $10 million during the prior fiscal year.

“We are really in good shape,” said board member Brooke Wooten.

The millage rate approved Monday is more than 9 percent lower than the rollback rate: that millage which would bring in the same dollars as the prior year.