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School budget: Put in your two cents' worth
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published July 31, 2007
The Hernando County Commission has grabbed headlines the past couple of months as residents have kept the pressure on commissioners to be equally adept at pinching pennies and predicting the future. Everyone is eager to see how - or if - cuts in government spending will correlate to a decrease in their tax bills.
The commission has held workshops and one public hearing to analyze the budget, and it has adopted a tentative tax rate for the coming fiscal year that reflects an almost one-mill reduction. Final public hearings are scheduled for September.
But the local government that residents actually pay more to in property taxes, the School Board, has avoided similar scrutiny. Tonight at 6 in a meeting at district headquarters on N Broad Street in Brooksville, the administrative staff will ask board members to also approve a tentative millage rate. But the decrease is not as much as the County Commission has proposed, there has been scant input from board members about where savings might be realized. There has been even less feedback from the public.
Acknowledging that budget hearings usually aren't priorities for folks who are busy juggling their professional and personal lives, we are still obliged to remind residents that now is the time to be heard on these important money matters. If you wait until your TRIM (Truth in Millage) statement lands in your mailbox in late August, your two-cents about penny-pinching or spending policies may be of even lesser value.
School district finance director Deborah Bruggink is proposing a total budget of $452.8-million. From that figure, $176.7-million is set aside for operating expenses, which is almost 13 percent more than the previous fiscal year. Bruggink said an anticipated increase of nearly 1,000 in student enrollment is the reason operating costs are more, and why she has not been able to cut more than the $3.2-million she has amassed to offset the revenue reductions mandated by the state Legislature.
Some residents are content to trust board members and the superintendent to scour the budget for savings. Their absence from board meetings bears out that observation. But for those who are less trusting, or have ideas of their own, now is the time to speak up. Asking questions, offering suggestions or registering complaints now, when the process is in its flexible stage, presents residents with a much better opportunity to influence the outcome.
And the outcome is always better when the public fulfills its role in the process.