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  1. Education

Hernando School Board approves budget with lower tax rates, no cuts to student services

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board signed off Tuesday on a $291 million budget that boasts a decrease in tax rates and no cuts to student services while increasing spending only slightly from last year.

After what she called a period of slow growth, budget director Kendra Sittig said the pieces have come together for a solid 2018-2019 budget.

"We're underfunded in many ways," she said in an interview, "but the way we tightened our belt over the past few years … that helped us keep the fund balance up."

Sittig said the district was able to reduce its transfer from the capital fund into its general fund — which makes up most of the budget and includes salaries and benefits — by $2 million, which will address capital needs including school safety improvements.

She said the district's financial health also allowed it to pay for new school resource officers, an expense that wasn't fully covered by state funding. The district hired the officers in response to new state legislation after the February school shootings in Parkland.

Elsewhere, Sittig noted $590,000 in mental health allocations.

The School Board approved a reduction in the tax rate from 6.619 to 6.340.

One mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value, which means a resident with a $100,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption will pay nearly $21 less in 2019 than 2018.

Despite the millage reduction, overall property value increases in the county mean the district will collect a projected $1.2 million more than last year.

This year's budgeting for capital appropriations proposes $6.4 million more in spending than in 2017-18. That includes more than $500,000 on buses and other motor vehicles.

Food service appropriations in total decreased by about $500,000 from what the district spent in 2017-18, though spending on materials and supplies in that category will increase by nearly $1 million.

The overall proposed budget is about $750,000 higher than the district spent in 2017-18.

Board member Susan Duval said the budget was an improvement over the past several years and tied it to increased economic health across the county. The district still faces financial challenges — from filling vacant teaching positions to replacing outdated textbooks.

"Having a little bit of money is good, but our need is great," she said. "This is not going to solve all the problems that we're dealing with on a regular basis."

Contact Jack Evans at Follow @JackHEvans.

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