Pasco County School Board member Cynthia Armstrong is calling attention to a trend she finds worrisome relating to state funding for schools.
She made her remarks during the July 27 school board meeting, after she and her colleagues approved the tentative budget for next fiscal year.
Superintendent Kurt Browning provided an overview, highlighting some of the key points of the approximately $1.47 billion budget, which is a decrease of $53.5 million.
For instance, the budget includes $10.5 million in additional state funding, to accommodate the district’s projected growth of 2,277 students, and recurring expenses.
The operating budget, of $731.5 million, includes the allocation and operating costs for the opening of Starkey Ranch K-8 and the mid-year opening of the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation.
The budget also includes an allocation of nearly $1.6 million to continue to increase the minimum base salary for full-time classroom teachers, Browning said.
The $351 million capital budget includes the construction of the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation, the construction of the 6-12 academy in the Land O’ Lakes area, and major renovations for Hudson and Gulf high schools, he added.
Olga Swinson, the district’s chief finance officer, said the district set aside $5.5 million for COVID-19 retention supplements, for employees who would not qualify under the governor’s bonus plan.
Swinson explained some of the steps necessary to balance the proposed budget.
For instance, she said, “we are moving 30 custodial units to be paid with the Department of Health grant.”
The district also plans to move 35% of the salary of its school psychologists to be covered by funding allocated for mental health needs.
The district additionally used Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief funding for the purchase of textbooks, which is allowed, but for this year only, Swinson said.
It also is transferring about $4.5 million from capital funds to the general fund to cover property insurance costs. Again, that’s for this year only, Swinson said.
Most of the new money received by the district resulted from an increase in property values, Swinson said. “The budget was built on about 6% property increase and we actually saw a 12.4% increase,” she said.
School board member Cynthia Armstrong raised concerns about the level of state funding received by the district and steps the district was forced to take, to maintain a balanced budget.
“You can see that we did use a few non-recurring funds to balance this budget, which is something that none of us like to do,” Armstrong said. “That just means we’re really going to have to dig in hard next year, unless the financial situation improves,” she said.
The board member continued: “I can only say, ‘Thank goodness property values went up, or we really would have been hurting.
“Because if you look at comparing this budget with last year’s, the money from the state that they give us was less than what we received last year,” she said.
The year before, the district received more money than it had the previous year — so it was on an upward trend, Armstrong said.
This year, she said, “despite what the Legislature (says) — how they spin it — when you look at the actual numbers, we actually got less from the state Legislature.
“Those are issues we need to be concerned with because, as we all know, the property values will not continue to go up at the rate that they’re going up,” she said.
She told her colleagues that she was raising the issue, as “kind of a cautionary thing.”
The district must remain fiscally strong to retain its high credit rating, so that it can borrow when necessary at the lowest cost possible, Armstrong said.
The district’s final public hearing on its budget is set for Sept. 14 at 6 p.m., in the board room at district headquarters, 7227 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., in Land O’ Lakes.
Pasco County Schools tentative 2021-2022 budget
General operating budget: $731.5 million
Capital budget: $351.1 million
Tax millage rate: $5.810
Taxes on a $175,000 home, assuming a $25,000 homestead exemption, would go down $16.80, under the proposed budget.
Published August 11, 2021