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Gainesville school board to set budget
Plan includes millions in cuts and a tax increase
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The Gainesville City Board of Education is poised to adopt a fiscal year 2009 budget Monday that could require a 12 percent increase in property taxes.

The board has made about $1.15 million in cuts since June 16, when it tentatively adopted a fiscal year 2009 budget. Since late March, the board has cut a total of $3.9 million from the school system's budget to help offset its estimated $5.6 million deficit.

According to Janet Allison, finance director for the Gainesville school system, the board is considering raising the total millage rate from the current rate of 6.96 mills to 7.81 mills. In June, the board was considering a 7.96 millage rate for fiscal year 2009.

One mill equals $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. If a 7.81 millage rate is adopted in late September, the owner of a $183,800 home, the median home price in Gainesville, would pay $156.23 in additional property tax.

Allison said the board is considering increasing the maintenance and operations portion of the millage rate from 6.62 to 7.42. The remainder of the current millage rate, 0.34 mills, goes toward paying off the school system's bonds debt. The board is also considering raising that debt millage rate to 0.39 mills for fiscal year 2009, which brings the total millage rate increase to 7.81 mills.

Allison said the millage rate for fiscal year 2007 was 7.83 mills.

The proposed millage rate increase would yield about $2,849,000 for the system's general fund, Allison said. By law, $1,424,000 of that would go directly toward paying off the system's estimated $5.6 million deficit, she said.

After twice delaying adoption of a budget for fiscal year 2009, which began July 1, the board finally is ready to end the temporary month-to-month budgeting practice it started in July.

Board members said they were unable to adopt a final budget by the state's June 30 deadline due to errors made in the school system's finance department in recent years.

The board fired then-superintendent Steven Ballowe in early July. The board cited financial irresponsibility as a primary factor for the move.

As the state Department of Education recently announced it would be cutting 2 percent of education funding statewide, Gainesville board members met with Allison to identify further cuts.

David Syfan, chairman of the Gainesville board, said state cuts amount to about $600,000 less for the school system, which will likely extend the board's time line to pay off the deficit from two years to three years.

"The question is, do you change the millage rate to adjust for the state revenue that's not going to happen?" Syfan said. "It's bad enough this year to go up at all. This is just not the year to go up more than 12 percent."

Allison said the board will likely adopt a final general fund budget Monday night that has a bottom line of about $52 million.

Syfan said the board was able to make more cuts in student supplies and held off on purchasing about $280,000 worth of science textbooks. He said most cuts came from not filling currently vacant positions.

"We tried to not have to let anybody go and do a hiring freeze," he said. "It's not ideal, but it's a compromise to reduce the budget to get us where we need to be."

Allison said the board was able to identify more than $800,000 in cuts just in leaving unfilled personnel positions vacant this year, unless required by law.

She said the board decided to leave the prior position of Chris Mance, former Gainesville High School assistant principal who is now interim principal at Gainesville High, unfilled this year. Similarly, the board will not hire a new principal at Fair Street International Baccalaureate School, were new interim superintendent Merrianne Dyer was previously positioned.

Will Campbell, former assistant principal at Fair Street International Baccalaureate School, is now serving as the school's interim principal. His former assistant principal position will remain open.

Syfan said the board did decide to invest about $54,000 in new math textbooks for middle school students.

Syfan said the board did not make any cuts to the system's pre-K program, and did not eliminate the system's day care program.

Instead of forcing teachers within the system to find alternative childcare for their children who are too young for pre-K, Syfan said the board has decided to increase fees $15 per week for day care services.

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