The Volusia County School District on Tuesday unanimously voted a budget of $ 1.2 billion, including a tax hike and a plan to use $ 41 million of its savings to cover a deficit.
The budget discussion, normally a contentious topic itself, has been largely overshadowed by a heated debate over masks in schools.
It’s the largest public budget in Volusia County, even exceeding the county’s provisional budget by $ 1.1 billion. But when the time came for a public hearing on the matter, no one had registered to speak. At one of the busiest board meetings in years, people lined up in the parking lot to talk only about whether or not to demand masks in schools.
The council has again chosen to cover a large budget deficit by dipping into its savings and hoping that future federal dollars will help close the gap that taxpayer dollars cannot.
From August:Interim tax hike, current federal funds cannot cover Volusia schools $ 53 million shortfall
The district’s finances have been strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit with a double blow of rising costs and declining student enrollments (meaning less money pouring in). There was also an increase in the amount the district was required to contribute to the Florida pension system and vouchers for private schools.
As for the revenue increase, the district got millions of federal dollars in COVID relief that it was able to use to pay for some of the things it had already budgeted for. Other funds have been spent on new university programs to help students affected by the pandemic.
But federal dollars weren’t enough to cover everything, and the district had yet to develop a plan to cover a $ 41 million budget deficit – the largest in recent memory, though it was down from 53 million dollars. million dollars projected with which the district was working. during the summer.
“This district has regularly relied on reserves to balance the budget,” said CFO Lisa Snead, pointing to a budget from 10 years ago where the district also used $ 41 million of its savings to cover a deficit. . Last year the deficit was about $ 10 million; in 2019, $ 8.1 million; and in 2018, less than $ 3 million.
Last year:The Volusia School Board is drawing back on its savings and a slight tax hike to balance the budget
The adopted tax rate is $ 5.80 per $ 1,000 of assessed value, which is lower than last year’s rate of $ 5.91 per $ 1,000. However, this year’s reduced rate – the rate that would produce the same income as last year’s rate using new appraisals of the same properties – is $ 5.66. This means that the tax rate is increasing from last year, allowing the school district to generate additional income.
A tax rate of $ 5.80 means that the owner of a $ 150,000 home with a $ 50,000 property exemption will pay $ 580 in annual property taxes.
The adopted tax rate will generate $ 196 million in revenue for the district, up from $ 190 million last year.
School board members are hoping that an additional $ 149 million in federal funds the district is waiting for but has yet to receive will help replenish its savings, but district staff have warned that at least some of the money will be set aside for specific purposes.
Board Chair Linda Cuthbert pointed out that the district is funded largely by local taxes and that a punitive state funding formula has resulted in years of lost money for the County of Volusia. The district cost differential, a multiplier that ended up giving wealthier districts more money, means Volusia County receives 96 cents of the dollar in taxes for its schools. Over 17 years, this represents $ 181 million in lost revenue.
Learn more about DCD:Volusia and Flagler are closely monitoring debate over how to allocate education dollars
“This is why ESSER (federal) funds are so valuable and why we are so dizzy,” Cuthbert said. “We can plug the holes in our school system. “
The major problem is that federal funds are not recurring.
Snead previously pointed out to council this year that once the ESSER dollars stop coming in, the district will need something like massive enrollment growth or changes to the state’s funding formula for reach the breakeven point.
Cassidy Alexander covers education for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Follow her on Twitter.