110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Al Everson
posted Jul 27, 2012 - 6:44:35am
The Volusia County School Board is poised to approve a 2012-13 budget that reduces spending and taxes — and the school-system payroll.
The tentative budget and ad valorem tax rate easily got the School Board’s OK July 24, after board members were treated to an in-depth presentation on the effects of the ongoing recession.
The school system has responded by tailoring expenses to stay within limited revenues, as Dr. Robert Moll, assistant superintendent for financial services, explained.
“The citizens of Volusia County will have a lower tax bill,” Moll said. “We’re down to Fiscal Year 2010 levels.”
This year’s belt-tightening follows cost-cutting steps already taken, including strict limits on hiring and efforts to reduce the number of employees, from custodians to principals. Other savings in recent years have resulted from closing schools, cutting travel, reducing electricity usage, and instituting a four-day workweek for district-office employees during the summer.
The new spending plan also takes from the fund balance.
“We’re dipping into our savings account each year, and that savings account is drawing down,” he said.
Moll cautioned that the need for austerity may not be over, as uncertainty still clouds the local, state and national economy. Property values may slide further, he warned, and enrollment in the local public schools may decrease if families move away and would-be settlers stay away.
“We’re really facing a declining revenue source, no matter what happens at the state level,” School Board Member Candace Lankford said.
Moll and other district officials are awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the district must refund to teachers and other employees the 3-percent contributions to the Florida Retirement System. The 3-percent contribution was mandated last year by the Florida Legislature, but a circuit judge said requiring the contribution was illegal, because it violated existing contracts between the state and its employees.
Moll could not say how much a refund of pension contributions would be, if ordered by the high court, or what form a refund may take.
The School District’s new budget totals just under $764 million, which is $41 million less than the previous fiscal year’s $805 million. Of the total, the general-operating fund is $456.3 million. Other portions of the budget include capital outlay, bonded-debt service, and special federal funds.
Moll said increasing costs, including the expense of complying with the class-size amendment, along with higher prices for fuel, insurance and pensions, quickly gobbled up an additional $10 million allocated to Volusia County by the state.
The new budget is based on a proposed property-tax rate of 7.888 mills, or about $7.89 per $1,000 of taxable value. The tentative rate for 2012-13 is less than last year’s 8.06 mills, and also below the rollback rate of 8.2131 mills. The rollback rate is the rate that would generate property-tax revenues equal to those of the year before.
If adopted at the School Board’s final budget meeting Sept. 11, the 7.888-mill rate will cost the average Volusia County homeowner $619, less than last year’s $650 tax bite. The decrease in the tax rate and the anticipated revenue track the continuing decline of property values.
As the property-tax base has shrunk, the School District has pared its work force. The tentative budget eliminates 354 personnel slots, including 247 teaching positions and 107 non-instructional positions. Those non-instructional personnel are paraprofessional and clerical workers, as well as custodians and even district-office staffers.
“No category was left untouched,” Moll told the School Board.
Over the past years — between 2007 and the state’s fiscal year that began July 1 — the Volusia County school system has eliminated a total of 1,908 jobs.
“You can see that every year it’s been quite painful,” Moll said.
Most of the personnel reductions come as a result of attrition, meaning vacant positions will not be filled, and employees who retire, resign or are dismissed will not be replaced.
Even with the work-force reductions, Moll said, the pending budget authorizes some 8,000 employees.
Only one private citizen addressed the School Board during its public hearing on the tentative budget and tax rate.
“I oppose any increase in the millage,” said William Maurelis of DeLand. “No one wants to pay more money.”
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