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Pinellas school leaders hoping for better budget year

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Published:   |   Updated: July 27, 2013 at 12:22 PM

CLEARWATER - Pinellas County school leaders are getting a clearer picture of what their bank account will look like for the upcoming school year, and the public will get its first opportunity Tuesday night to weigh in on how to spend the money.

The upcoming school year's operating fund reflects $38.2 million in additional funding, one of the biggest increases in recent years. Tax increases should produce an additional $2 million.

That doesn't mean budgeting has gotten any easier for the school district.

"It looks like they're giving and giving and giving, but that's really not the case," said School Board member Terry Krassner. "You hear that there are big dollars coming in for next year, but you don't realize what we're trying to make up or what that money is tied to."

Of the additional funding, nearly $30 million will be used for increased teacher salaries and contributions to the Florida Retirement System.

The increase also doesn't account for inflation, said school district Chief Financial Officer Kevin Smith.

"If you look at what the cost of a ticket was at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom just 11 years ago it was $48 a ticket, and now it's $95 a ticket - almost a 98 percent increase," Smith said. "If you put that same increase on our funding, we'd get about $26 billion more then our current funding and what we're currently operating with.

"The thing that we don't have that businesses have is we don't have the ability to control our revenue. We work with what we're given."

Every department and principal has been asked to take a hard look at their budgets and identify items they could live without so the school district can "live within its means," but there won't be drastic cuts like in previous years, said schools Superintendent Michael Grego.

The increase, however nominal, should help reverse the school district's trend of spending more money then it takes in. During the 2012-2013 school year, the school district spent $9 million more than it took in, but during the upcoming school year it expects to spend $6 million less than it brings in.

Those figures are still tentative, as financial statements for the 2012-2013 school year aren't yet finished and health care and teacher salaries are still being negotiated with the teachers union, Smith said. A final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 10, when those figures should be finalized.

After its regular meeting Tuesday, the Pinellas County School Board will hold its first public hearing on the tentative 2013-2014 budget at 7 p.m. in the School Administration Building Conference Hall. School district budget officials will break down components of the proposed $1.2 billion budget, as well as a proposed property tax increase, and time is allotted for the public to voice opinions.

The proposed budget is available on the school district's website at www.pcsb.org/budget/ .

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

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