SEBRING - The School Board of Highlands County's budget has increased slightly for the 2013-14 fiscal year, but the property tax rate will be going down for the second year in a row.
Compared to the 2012-13 budget, the district's 2013-14 budget increased about $684,000 (.6 percent) to $118,788,775.
The school board approved the 2013-14 property tax rate at $7.265 per $1,000 of assessed property, which is a reduction of .433 mills from the 2012-13 tax rate of 7.698 mills. The 2011-12 property tax rate was 7.813 mills and in 2004-05 it was 8.475 mills.
Assistant Superintendent Mike Averyt noted that the difference in the general fund is due to additional money from the state.
The general fund increase by about $2 million to $88,288,740.
"The capital fund went down obviously as we spend out of the capital funds," Averyt said. It is funded by the 1.5 mill capital levy.
The district's capital improvement fund decreased by $2.29 million to $8,798,710.
A reduction in capital funds, for large expenditures such as school buses, has become a concern of school districts statewide.
The capital millage was 2.0 in 2007-08 before it was reduced and the district was able to levy a critical needs millage of .25 for four years from 2009-10 through 2012-13.
An enrollment increase will help increase the district's state funding.
"Enrollment is up for this year and we are still evaluating that and we won't know for sure until we get to the [enrollment] survey periods in October and February to get the final count, but that looks good," Averyt said. "At least it is not another problem like we've had in the past years where we've had declining enrollment.
"For the past two years we've been increasing so hopefully the economy is turning around and we will see more growth."
After the school board approved the tax rate and the budget, School Board Chairman Andy Tuck asked, "When can we start on next year's budget?"
Averyt responded, "It will be pretty quickly."
The personnel changes noted in the budget includes an increase of 44 teaching positions.
The district's 2013-14 fiscal year demographic information shows a total of 1,619 employees, including: 877.6 teachers, 677.5 non-instructional employees, 48 administrators, 10 managers and six elected officials.
The average teacher salary is $43,622; the beginning teacher salary is $34,000 and the top (Level 12) teacher salary is $54,500.