School Board approves tentative millage rates, budgets

Karen Coffey, executive director of budget and resource allocation, presented information on tentative millage rates during Pinellas County School Board first budget public hearing on July 30.

LARGO — Pinellas County School Board voted unanimously to approve tentative millage rates and budgets for fiscal year 2019-2020 during the first of two public hearings held on July 30.

School Board member Eileen Long was absent.

The second and final budget public hearing is scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 6:30 p.m. in the conference hall of the Administration Building, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo.

Karen Coffey, executive director of budget and resource allocation, presented information on tentative millage rates. They include separate rates for operating, required local effort, which is state-mandated, discretionary, also state-mandated, local referendum and capital.

The total tentative millage rate proposed is 6.5840 mills, which is 2.13% less than the current year’s rate of 6.7270 mills.

The proposed operating millage rate is 5.0840 mills, which is 2.74% less than the current year. The operating rate includes the required local effort of 3.8360 mills, which is 3.59% less than the current rate, and the rate for discretionary local effort of 0.7480 mills, which is the same as FY 2018-2019.

It also includes the local referendum millage rate of 0.5 mills, which has been approved by the voters every four years since 2008. The referendum millage supports reading, music and art programs; provides up-to-date technology; and helps with recruitment and retention of teachers.

The final piece of the total tentative millage rate is for capital outlay. It is set at 1.5 mills, the same as the current year.

The total proposed millage rate is 3.81% more than the rolled-back rate of 6.3425 mills, which is the rate needed to generate the same revenue as the current year.

Coffey pointed out that although the tentative millage rate is lower than the current year, property owners will likely pay more in taxes due to increased property values. She gave an example of a property with an assessed value of $200,000 with a homestead exemption of $25,000, leaving a taxable value of $175,000. Property tax is levied based on $1 per $1,000 of property value.

If a property valued at $175,000 were divided by 1,000, the result would be 175. Multiply 175 by the millage rate of 6.584 mills, and the result is $1,152.20, which is the amount of taxes that would be owed for FY 2019-2020.

Due to changes in property values, 7.2% for 2019, taxes for a property with a taxable value of $175,000 would be about $80 more than the current year. Coffey said the tax amounted to $3.15 a day.

Thanks to the increases in property value, local taxes should bring in an estimated $587 million, a $27.28 million increase compared to the current year.

Tentative budget

Lou Ann Jourdan, manager of budget, FTE and cost reporting, presented information on the proposed tentative budget of $1.55 billion. The biggest piece is $978 million for general operating expenses, followed by $344 million for capital outlay and $154 million for the employee’s self-insurance health program.

About 49% comes from local sources and 39% from the state with the remainder coming from fund balances and transfer.

Jourdan said the legislature approved an increase in the base student allocation to $4,279 for FY 2019-2020, which is $75 higher than the current year. Statewide funding for education was increased to $555.6 million. Pinellas County’s share was $25 million.

The state also provided more money for Safe Schools and Pinellas received an additional $9.7 million for its Best and Brightest Teacher/Principal allocation.

However, Florida Retirement System costs increased and the statewide allocation for Digital Classrooms dropped by $50 million.

The district spends the majority, 62%, of its operating budget, on salaries, plus another 20% on benefits.

Pinellas has a goal to spend at least 63% of its money on direct instruction in the classroom with the remaining 37% allocated to support and administrative costs. However, Jourdan said the district spends closer to 67% on direct instruction.

“At least two-thirds of funding goes to the classrooms,” she said.

The state requires the district to maintain 3% in contingency funds and the school board requires that 5% be set aside for unexpected costs. The tentative budget includes a 7% contingency fund.

The district has nearly $344 million in proposed capital projects, including major renovations to seven elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.

Superintendent Michael Grego thanked School Board members for their approval of the tentative budget and millage rates and explained that all aspects had been examined in detail during June 25 workshop.

School Board member Bill Dudley extended kudos to the people responsible for “putting it all together,” saying the budget was easy to understand and easy to read.

The tentative budget in its entirety is available at the Office of Budget and Resource Allocation in the Administration Building, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo and online at www.pcsb.org. For more information, call 727-588-6479.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.