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Schools dangle $1.2B budget
The tentative amount represents wishful planning, says the board's chairwoman.
By JEFFERY S. SOLOCHECK, Times Staff Writer
Published August 1, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - The Pasco School Board went through the motions Tuesday of giving initial approval to a $1.2-billion budget for 2007-08.
About the only thing that anyone could count on, though, was a 20-cent dip in the tax rate, thanks to a $3.9-billion increase in the county's property values. The owner of a $225,000 home, who claims a $25,000 homestead exemption, would pay $1,441.60, a $40.20 drop.
Otherwise, the budget represented hope rather than reality.
"This is the budget we wish we would have," chairwoman Marge Whaley told the audience. "If you're reading the paper at all, you know that I know that we don't know how much money we're going to get. And we won't know until the legislative special session in September."
State economists have projected a revenue shortfall of more than $1-billion. That estimate is due to be updated today.
With education representing such a big portion of the state budget, schools stand to take a big hit as lawmakers adjust the overall state spending plan.
Already, superintendents have been told to prepare for cuts of at least 4 percent.
"Even though we know we're going to have cuts, we know we have to have a budget," chief financial officer Olga Swinson told the board.
So the presentation went.
Under the prepared budget, the district would spend $537-million on general operations, up 5.27 percent from a year ago. Most of the additional money would go toward covering the costs of growth - the district expects to add about 1,200 students and 100 teachers in the upcoming school year.
Utility, gas and insurance rates also look to go up, and the price of maintenance and upkeep associated with opening five new schools will take up much of the remaining excess.
The other major portion of the budget is construction and capital projects. That amount is $403-million, down 25.17 percent. The district intends to run fewer projects this year - three new schools plus major additions or renovations to several others.
No one from the community commented on the budget proposal during the public hearing. Afterward, Whaley noted that when the time comes to trim spending, it won't be easy.
"Most of the money is already spent in programs," she observed. "So when we look ahead to cut it is going to be very difficult, because we want to keep away from the classroom."
The board has scheduled its final budget hearing for Sept. 11.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.