Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Education

In welcome change, Hernando school district expects a budget surplus and no cuts for schools

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District's budget forecast for the coming school year calls for no additional cuts for schools and — for the first time in a while — no budget shortfall.

It's a welcome relief.

Over the past two years, Hernando schools have been forced to make consecutive rounds of 10 percent cuts in order to cover budget deficits. It initially looked like this year might not be much different. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt asked school administrators to look for ways to trim an additional 5 percent for the 2013-14 school year to cover an estimated $4 million shortfall.

But the current forecast, which is still subject to fluctuations, no longer calls for those cuts.

One factor is that the district is beginning with a $7.1 million carryover from 2012-13. District officials expect to end 2013-14 with roughly $4.7 million in reserve — about 3.04 percent of estimated general fund revenues.

The surplus is important. Districts that allow their reserve fund to fall below 3 percent are placed on a state watch list.

"It's by the skin of our teeth," said Blavatt. "It would be great if everything pans out."

Funding per student increased $422.49 to $6,582.73 and, overall, the district's 2013-14 budget for the general fund is estimated at $167.34 million, up from $153.12 million last year.

"It definitely is better," said Heather Martin, the district's executive director of business services. "It certainly looks better than it has the past two (years)."

But she cautioned: "We are certainly not out of tough financial times by any means."

The district is also facing some new expenses this year, including the money needed for the automatic annual raises built into union contracts, an increased contribution to the Florida Retirement System and the need to pay off bonds issues. The salary increases and increased retirement contribution will cost roughly $5 million.

Although Blavatt isn't asking school administrators to make any cuts, individual schools will still experience some shrinking due to declining enrollment throughout the district and normal staff attrition. The state projects Hernando will lose about 160 full-time equivalent students for the coming year.

Martin said the district cut district-level departments 10 percent for 2013-14, which follows several years of trimming.

"We're able to offer less resources, which is a lot of it," she said. "We've already started to impact our services."

She said, for example, the time it takes to process requests from schools is higher.

"I don't want to get to a point where people get the feeling that we're out of the financial crunch," she said. "It certainly has not gone away."

But the fact that schools won't have to take an additional 5 percent cut is good news.

Principals across the district have said they already had cut everything they could.

"We're down to bare bones," Springstead principal Susan Duval said in May when asked about the potential for additional cuts. "It's most difficult. It's extremely difficult."

The School Board on Tuesday will also hear the first presentation on preliminary property tax rates.

The total school tax rate will likely be set at 7.54 mills, or $754 for a $125,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption. A property owner with the same value paid about $745 last year.

The board workshop on Tuesday will be the first time the 2013-14 budget has been discussed publicly, which is later than normal.

The district has had to prepare the budget without a chief financial officer. Former CFO Desiree Henegar resigned in January, and the district has been unable to fill her position despite two searches.

"We haven't added staff," said Blavatt. "The staff has been really pressured. They've done a great job getting to this point. It really is to their credit."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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