School Board OKs lower millage

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Warns of more future cuts

By Mike Capshaw, Staff Writer

 Near the end of a meeting in which the School Board of Levy County approved, among other things, a tentative millage and budget for 2011-12, board member Cameron Asbell of Bronson offered up a cost-savings idea.

Asbell didn’t prepapre any notes to introduce his idea before Tuesday night, all he did was hold up the more than 100 sheets of paper he had been handed during the two-plus hour meeting. It was timely considering lack of funding was discussed several times.

“I recommend we go more paperless to save money and start right here with (the school board) as an example for others to follow,” Asbell said, noting the more than $170,000 spent by the district on paper in the past school year. “In just my little (insurance) office, we went paperless and it’s probably saved $10,000.”

The board was widely in favor of the idea, discussing ways to transfer to the digital age. Although nothing could be voted on because it wasn‘t on the agenda, going green with less white paper is a subject certain for future attention.

Because of declining county taxes largely due to falling home prices and a decrease in state funding, the board tightened its budget belt. It unanimously approved a tentative millage rate of 7.554, down from 7.653 last year. It results in a capital outlay tax of $2.74 million to be used for maintenance, renovations and repairs, including the purchase of five school buses.

Superintendent Bob Hastings said transportation has “been a real issue” as the district spent more than $1 million more than allotted by the state. Levy County is the sixth largest geographically with a spider web of rural bus routes throughout. Still, bus routes have been significantly sliced.

“People need to stand up and demand we need more money,” said Hastings. “When I took over in November of 2008, we got $46 million from the state, and now just $35.9 million. We’ve lost over $10 million, which may not be a lot of money to people at the state, but in Levy County, $10 million is a lot of money.”

Hastings later thanked local lobbyists for battling state legislators because it could “be a lot worse without their help helping people who aren’t in education better understand education.” Hastings said a major problem is that public schools won’t receive any money from Florida’s Public Education Capital Outlay this year. Instead, $77 million was split between private, charter schools and higher-learning institutions.

“This legislative body is telling me where their care is, and that’s into charter schools, and not public schools,” said board chairman Rick Turner.

Approved by a 4-0 vote was a tentative budget of $35.9 million, down from 40.5 million in actual expenditures and $42.9 million budgeted in 2010-11.

“Last year at this same time it was well over a $40 million, so it’s a pretty significant change,” said Bob Clemons, director of finance. “We’ve been talking about the cliff, and this is it. It’s going to be a tough year, but it’ll be even tougher next year so get ready.”

Board member Robert Philpot addressed the same thing later in the meeting, saying teachers need to be aware of more budget shrinking. They also need to start getting stipend requests in on time, a school board policy all four members in attendance agreed upon vehemently. Three of the four professional leave requests on the consent agenda were for trips taken last month.

“We need to let teachers know to start preparing for 2012 because it’s going to be a desert,” said Philpot, who spent 36 years as agriculture teacher at Williston High.

A strict student dress code that includes tough penalties for vioaltion of Florida’s new “baggie pants law” was approved as policy as was a wellness policy and changes to student attendence policy that makes three unexcused tardies in a nine-week grading span will count as an unexcused absence.

“As teachers become more accountable for test scores, we need kids there. We want them there,” said Cindy Roach, president of the Levy County Education Association. “I think this is good for the school system.”

With less resources because of budget cuts, teachers will need all the help they can get.”