LABELLE -- Hendry County School District (HCSD) adopted a 2021-2022 fiscal year budget during its regular meeting Sept. 7.
Superintendent Michael Swindle recommended a $144,556,785 budget and a 5.8010 millage, both measures approved by board members in a 4-1 vote. Chairwoman Stephanie Busin voted nay on both items.
The new budget will cost homeowners $69 more in property taxes for a home valued at $100,000, according to Chief Financial Officer, Sarah Cox.
This is based on a 13.50% property valuation, which offset the decreased millage rate of 1.64% in 2020-2021.
Cox said the budget represented a “significant increase” compared to the 2020-2021 budget, primarily due the boost in funding from the Florida Public Schools Full Time Equivalent for the Digital Academy of Florida for the K-12 program.
The General Fund has a beginning fund balance of just over $19 million, most of it spread throughout the budget.
“For example, the restricted fund balance for specific purposes like Safe Schools,” Cox said.
However, there is a declining Unassigned Fund balance that needs attention despite the district adding $200,000 of new revenue to bring the balance up to $8.5 million.
Cox said there are strategies in place to mitigate and raise the balance through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds.
This funding provides emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools impacted by COVID-19.
Cox said funding was already received from one ESSER fund and she expects approximately $22.4 - $23.4 million from two additional ESSER funds.
The Capital Projects Budget increased due to the tax value increases however, a large balloon payment is coming due this year that will dent the Debt Service and the Internal Service Budget, which is the district’s self-insured dental fund that continues to dwindle.
“This is a matter we will have to address at some point,” she said.
Swindle said that the downward trend in the Unassigned Fund has become something of a historical trend, reminding the board that historically the school district has never spent what has been projected in the budget.
The school district was not prepared to mitigate the costs of COVID-19, which cost millions in unexpected expenses, he said.
Despite the possibility of the ESSER funds, Swindle said they were not included in the budget in the off chance the funding doesn’t materialize.
“We hope to come back in a pretty short order to amend it or show a better number there than what we’re looking at today,” he said.
It was one of the reasons Busin voted against the budget, saying she was basing her decision on the numbers as presented.
She worried the current legislative belt-tightening and precarious economic forecasts, particularly with the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expiring, poses a threat to what the district may actually receive in the way of government funding.
She also voted against the millage rate along the same lines, expressing her reluctance to ask the community to pay more taxes under the circumstances.