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Schools favor lower tax

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


INVERNESS -- Citrus property owners could see a 4 percent decrease in the tax rate that garners money to support the school system.

The School Board on Thursday tentatively approved the tax rate and a $142-million budget so administrators can advertise the information and set public hearing dates, as the law requires. After the public hearings, the school board will make final approval of the tax rate in September.

The proposed tax rate is 8.571 mills, down from 8.943 mills.

A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in appraised taxable property value. The new rate would mean property owners would pay $8.57 in tax for every $1,000 in appraised taxable property value.

With that rate, the owner of a $75,000 house who takes the $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $428.65. That is $18.50 less than what that property owner would have paid during the past tax season.

Although the district's proposed tax rate is decreasing, the amount of money raised actually would increase. The reason: The value of property within the county has increased. The lower tax rate still would bring in $300,000 more than the previous year, according to school finance records.

The spending plan includes pay raises for all employees. The terms of those raises already have been negotiated, although more than 400 workers have not yet settled on a contract and rejected the most recent contract and pay plan offer.

Because the district's bottom line finished at a healthy $7-million-plus at the end of the past fiscal year, Superintendent Pete Kelly has said he hopes to provide some additional pay for teachers. He also will increase the amount given to schools based on their student population, from $40 per full-time equivalent student to $50 per full-time equivalent.

During a budget meeting Thursday, board member Pat Deutschman questioned finance director Sara Perez about the bottom line.

"This means we've recovered $5-million" over this time last year, Deutschman asked.

Perez said such a difference was possible because the district received more state money than it expected and saved significant money by not spending as much as expected.

The board gave Kelly permission to begin telling principals that if enrollments were increasing beyond expectations, they could begin adding teachers. About $400,000 has been set aside in the budget for such staff growth.

Deutschman asked whether Kelly planned to shift staff from schools with smaller student population to schools that need help. Such moves could make new hires less necessary.

"It has not been the practice in the past to make changes, but we will look at that this year," Kelly said. "You may hear some squawks."

The state has said the number of children enrolling in Citrus schools this year should not increase compared with last year's figures. Principals disagree.

"We know we are growing," Kelly said. "Forest Ridge is growing and it hasn't even opened its doors yet."

Kelly and the board members thanked Perez for her hard work. She is leaving to take a similar job in Hernando County.

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