With three new schools scheduled to start construction and an increase of about 1,000 students, the Manatee County School Board has approved one of its largest budgets ever.
The budget for the 2017-18 school year is $884,404,984, approved by a 5-0 vote Tuesday night.
The 2016-17 budget was in the high $660 million range, school officials said.
“I think it’s probably the largest budget we’ve passed,” school board member Scott Hopes said after a roughly 75-minute public hearing in school board chambers attended by three members of the public. “We have three schools starting construction so we are going to be expanding our infrastructure and we are focused on student success.”
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The three new schools include North River High School, a middle school and an elementary school, with the latter pair to be built south of the Manatee River in East Manatee, said school spokesman Michael Barber.
Budget also swells due to property values
The new school budget includes a slight decrease in the property tax rate, but tax revenue for the district increased dramatically due to an 8 percent increase in property values in Manatee County, said district chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts.
The millage rate approved Tuesday was 6.608, which is the lowest millage rate in 20 years, Hopes said. Last year’s millage rate was 6.92.
“What it means is that the school district portion of the property taxes that you are paying this year is a lower or smaller portion than it would have been in a previous year,” Roberts said after the hearing. “Your overall property taxes might be a little higher because the value of your property went up but our portion of that is lower than last year.”
A mill equates to $1 per every $1,000 of a home’s value. The first $25,000 of a home value is exempt.
An example of how it works would be: If a homeowner’s property is worth $150,000, he or she would have paid $865 last year in school tax based on last year’s millage rate.
Without any increase in property value, this year that same homeowner would pay $826 with the decreased rate, Roberts said.
But with an average increase of 8.18 percent in property values, that homeowner wouls pay $893 to the school district, Roberts added.
The district’s general fund, which pays teacher salaries and benefits, supplies and utility bills, will increase from last year by 4.69 percent. Capital revenue, which pays for construction and maintenance, will increase from last year by 12.94 percent, due to increased property tax revenue, impact fees and sales tax.
Norm Nelson, the lone Manatee resident to comment on the budget at the hearing, told board members that the budget contains double counting of some funds.
Roberts disagreed with Nelson and told board members that the district recently received its 11th award for excellence in financial recording and is regularly audited.
Trees at North River High
Prior to the budget hearing, Manatee resident Glen Gibellina told board members that it’s a shame that students who will attend the new North River High School have not had input in the design of the school.
“It looks cookie-cutter and it shouldn’t be,” Gibellina said.
School board member Dave “Watchdog” Miner thanked Gibellina for his concerns and added: “I think there is a real sense in the community for saving trees there, especially when we have a footprint as big as North River High School.”
Miner was concerned that an inventory of the trees on the North River High property has not been done.
“Knowing the ages and kinds of trees cautions us on what we should tear down,” Miner added.