Hernando County schools budget bridges gaps

BROOKSVILLE — After months of wrestling with the red pen, the Hernando School Board put a balanced budget to bed Tuesday night.

The board, during its final budget hearing, approved a $269.6 million budget for 2011-12. That includes a general fund of $165.7 million and a capital projects fund of $70 million.

The estimated revenues of $188.5 million are down $18.5 million, or 9 percent, from last year, chief financial officer Desiree Henegar told the board.

The numbers changed slightly since the first budget hearing at the end of July as Henegar and her staff closed out the previous fiscal year that ended June 30.

The estimated ending general fund reserve is $4.32 million, but only about $3 million of that is unassigned. That's a dangerously small rainy day fund to cover expenses that could pop up later in the year, Henegar said

Among the concerns: The state now requires the district to budget 96 percent of the tax roll, but last year the district only collected 93.7 percent.

"What we all recognize is, this is not good," superintendent Bryan Blavatt said. "It's a patchwork and the best we can do it now until the economy changes."

The district has been hit hard by plummeting property values, a cut in state funding and a loss of federal stimulus dollars. Voters also resoundingly defeated a referendum last November that would have allowed the board to slightly increase the school tax rate to bring in an additional $2 million.

To bridge what at one point was an estimated $11 million shortfall, board members pared back bus service, approved fees to participate in sports and other activities, dipped into the general fund reserve and sent non-reappointment letters to more than 100 first-year teachers. That was after school principals and district office administrators cut 10 percent of their staffing allocations at Blavatt's direction.

The local teacher union made some concessions, agreeing to give up a half-year's worth of the automatic raise built into its contract and two paid holidays. That allowed the district to bring back all 114 of the teachers given non-reappointment notices and place them in full-time teaching positions.

The district was able to close the last portion of the gap with help from unspent funds for fuel and vacant positions.

On Friday, the 10th day of school, Hernando's K-12 enrollment hit 22,147 students, or 51 fewer than projected. Another tally taken in October is used by the state to determine funding, but the number is close enough to projections to ease fears of staffing cuts, said Heather Martin, executive director of business services. "We are not anticipating any layoffs," Martin said.

The total school tax rate will increase by 0.091 mills, to 7.508 mills. The increase is in the so-called required local effort portion of the rate, which is set by the state.

A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of property value, so a $125,000 property with a $25,000 homestead exemption would receive a school tax bill of $750.80, or $9.10 more than last year. Since property values dropped by about 10 percent this year, however, many property owners won't actually be paying more in school taxes.

The tax rate is 9.7 percent less than the rollback rate, or the rate that would have brought in the same amount of revenue as last year.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

By the numbers

$269.6M budget for 2011-12

$165.7M general fund

$70M capital projects

Source: Hernando School Board

Hernando County schools budget bridges gaps 09/06/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 5:25pm]

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