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School board OKs tentative budget, millage

BRADENTON — Although school taxes will likely increase this fall, the Manatee County School District expects to pull in less money because of declining property values and foreclosures.

School officials expect about $218 million from property tax revenue, down $26 million from the previous year’s $244 million, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jim Drake said Wednesday after the school board tentatively raised property taxes by 2.3 percent and unanimously approved a tentative $697 million budget for the 2009-10 school year.

That budget calls for a maximum millage rate of 7.541. Last year the rate was 7.372 mills.

So a taxpayer with a home valued at $250,000 with a homestead exemption of $25,000 and no change in assessment would pay $1,696 in school property taxes — an increase of about $38.

Board member Jane Pfeilstickler said the millage is determined by legislators.

“It is not a local board decision,” she said. “County and city commissioners set theirs (millage rates) but not the school board.”

Despite the potential millage increase for the coming school year, the district will get less revenue because the real estate market fell.

Property valuation here dropped just less than 8 percent from $33.1 billion in 2008 to $30.5 billion in 2009.

As of late last week, lenders had filed more than 3,600 foreclosure suits in Manatee County Circuit Court. There were 3,304 filed at the same point in 2008.

The upcoming tentative budget, derived from a 30-item plan recommended by Superintendent Tim McGonegal, is still more than $13.6 million smaller than the current budget.

Reductions includes eliminating 48 district office positions ($3,528 million), axing assistant principals in nine district schools ($900,000) and turning Duette Elementary into a “contract site” ($118,000)

Also on the list: reducing or eliminating elementary and middle school field trip allocations ($140,000) and eliminating the allocation of 36 reading coaches ($1.1 million).

No schools will close and no employees will have pay cuts under the upcoming tentative budget.

The district needs to slash about $25 million during the next three years.

The tentative millage approved Monday won’t increase, but could drop, Drake said.

Final votes on the rate and the budget are set for Sept. 10.

The board did not impose an optional critical needs millage that lawmakers last week gave school districts the opportunity to implement.

An additional property tax of 25 cents per $1,000 of taxable value would generate just more than $7 million, Drake said.

“This year with everybody hurting, it is not being requested,” said board member Bob Gause.