Levy County school millage tentatively set at 7.653

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By Steve Waters

The School Board of Levy County on Tuesday unanimously adopted its tentative millage rate and tentative budget for the 2010-2011 school year.

But throughout the public hearing — the first by the school district for the next fiscal year —  signs of future financial distress filtered in to the discussions.

Outside of school district employees, board members and the press, no one attended the hearing.

The board adopted a tentative millage rate of 7.653, which would raise an estimated $15,111,268 for the school district. The rate reflects the addition of a discretionary critical needs quarter mill. Under state law, the tentative millage rate set by the board is the maximum that can be charged. While the board cannot set it higher, it can lower the millage rate.

Last year’s millage rate was 7.751, which brought in $15,916,599.89. The millage may be going down slightly, but assessed property values also declined during the previous year, Director of Finance Bob Clemons told the board Tuesday.

As for the budget, the school board tentatively approved a budget for $68,462,145 for the next fiscal year. The district expects to take an estimated $500,000 hit to its general fund balance, having factored in current federal and state funding and increases in expenditures.

But the prevailing concerns Tuesday were what happens after the next fiscal year.

Clemons told the board that about $4 million provided by the federal stimulus package are expected to disappear in 2011-2012.

Superintendent Bob Hastings told the board that 63 employees were paid from the stimulus package funds, and as of now, there is no source to replace that money.

Clemons also provided the board with a chart showing the decline in revenue received from the state. Since the 2007-2008 fiscal year, revenue has declined about $4 million, and he said it could keep dropping as the state’s economy struggles to recover.

“I believe it’s something we need to start preparing for now,” Clemons said.

Hastings added that there is an estimated 20 percent increase in benefits costs to employees. Also, full-time enrollment, which determines the amount of revenue the district receives from the state, also keeps declining.

Hastings also mentioned the state’s Class Size Amendment, which requires schools met its requirements on a class-by-class starting this upcoming school year. If the requirements are not met, the board could be penalized as much as $581,000.

The amendment will require class sizes no larger than 18 students per elementary class, 22 per middle school class and 25 per high school class. Hastings said that realistically, the school district would have to hire an additional 15 to 20 teachers to meet the requirements.

“Right now, that’s something we just can’t afford,” he said.