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School budget reviewed without superintendent
By TOM MARSHALL
Published June 20, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Like trains in Germany, the school budget process has a certain and precise timetable - even without a conductor.
And so it was Tuesday that the Hernando County School Board found itself reviewing numbers on the coming school year, even without a superintendent of schools to defend the rationale behind those numbers.
Superintendent Wendy Tellone, whose official retirement begins July 1, has been allowed by the board to leave early to use vacation days she otherwise would lose. Her successor, Wayne Alexander, is finishing up his old job in Connecticut and won't be here until month's end.
Finance director Deborah Bruggink did her best to describe the district's current financial picture at the afternoon workshop. Revenues are up, but so are general fund expenses, she said.
That means property owners will pay about 1 percent more this year on the school portion of their property tax. For the owner of a $125,000 house using the homestead exemption, the bill would be about $827, up $8.10 from last year.
New state legislation rolling back county and municipal tax rates won't affect the schools, Bruggink said. But the district could take a funding hit if voters approve a constitutional amendment Jan. 29 to expand the homestead exemption.
Bruggink said the district is proposing a total budget of $443.2-million for the 2007-08 school year, down 2.8 percent from last year. That includes $243-million in capital projects, down 5 percent from last year. The $25-million debt service budget is down 36 percent, largely due to a refinancing deal concluded this spring, she said.
But the budget that counts - the $174.7-million general fund for most staff salaries and benefits, textbooks and other classroom expenditures - is up 10 percent from last year.
Much of that increase is due to a projected student increase of 957 students, bringing total district enrollment to 23,278 students, Bruggink said. That will require about 120 additional teachers and six nonteaching staffers, according to current projections.
"So you are not budgeting for any additional district administrators?" asked board member Jim Malcolm.
"Not at this time," Bruggink said. "I think that will be a reflection of what happens with the new superintendent."
In his job interview this spring, Alexander told the board he was surprised by the amount of central office work being shared by three executive directors, Malcolm recalled.
But Bruggink said there would be time for him to make changes before the board holds its official public hearing July 31 on the proposed budget.
"Some of his vision may not be reflected in the budget he'll be working with," said board member Dianne Bonfield.
But Bruggink said she often brings mid-year budget amendments before the board as priorities change. And it simply wouldn't be possible to wait for Alexander to arrive and still meet the September deadline required by state law.
"You have to start from somewhere," Bruggink said. "You can't pull a budget together in three weeks."