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Sunday, Oct 26, 2014

Pinellas School Board gives early approval to $1.2 billion budget

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— The Pinellas County School Board gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a $1.2 billion budget after a public hearing that drew little comment from the public.

After hearing comments from only one speaker on the 2014-15 budget and tax rate, school board members voted to adopt the tentative budget and move forward in the budgeting process. A final public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 9, when the school board is expected to adopt a revised document.

“I like the idea that you’re living within your means,” said retired journalist John Ciani, who came to question the school district’s debt and federal funding.

The school district’s general operating fund, the main funding source which pays for day-to-day operations, increased by about $13.1 million this year to $878.8 million.

The school district will see a nearly $25 million increase in state funding, with much of the increase earmarked for specific initiatives. For example, $1.1 million will go to help ensure schools meet the technological requirement for online testing and classrooms assignments under the new Florida Standards, which will be fully adopted next school year.

The school district also has to allocate an additional $1.7 million of those funds to the Florida Retirement System because of a change in the state’s contribution rate. The increase also has to pay for 16 schools to remain open for an additional half hour of reading intervention each school day because of students’ low Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading scores and reading gains, a requirement from the state Department of Education for the lowest performing 300 schools.

“Although the district is receiving $24.9 million in additional funding for students, it doesn’t meet our 2007-2008 allocation ... in fact it’s about $13 million less,” said School Board member Linda Lerner. “I think the public needs to know that we really are effectively using the money we have, but with many more mandates and expectations for this district, and we’re receiving less funding.”

School Board members must also vote on this year’s property tax rate of $7.84 for each $1,000 of taxable assessed property value. The rate is lower than $8.06 for the current school year, but should bring in about $20 million more than last year because of rising property values.

The district expects $491 million in property tax money in 2014-15 school year.

The school district has budgeted about $277 million for its capital budget, which funds equipment purchases and construction and renovation projects. Of that, about $35 million is earmarked to build a new campus for Largo High School, $2.6 million to add new classrooms at East Lake Middle School and $397,500 to add classrooms at Lealman Intermediate School.

About $1.9 million is under the purview of the school district’s four area superintendents to fund maintenance projects at the schools they oversee, a new fund created for next school year.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Michael Grego told the board 16 area schools that fell on the “Low 300” reading list will only have to add an extra half hour to their school day instead of the hour anticipated. The schools will begin at the traditional time, but students will be released a half hour later so they can take an extra reading course. Because the school district already offers tutoring programs like Promise Time at these schools, they are not required to stay a full hour as originally thought.

The School Board members also announced that a new school district website will be rolled out Friday to make navigation easier for students and parents.

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

Twitter: @adawsonTBO

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