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School board has yet to see tentative budget
First approval set for Monday; final OK comes June 30
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Time is running out for Gainesville school board members to give thoughtful review to a tentative $50 million-plus budget for next year that carries a potential increase in the property tax rate of nearly 21 percent.

The board is set to vote on the tentative budget Monday night and, as of Saturday night, had yet to receive a copy of the document less than 48 hours beforehand.

The budget is set for final adoption on June 30, the deadline for its submission to the state.

The board has little wiggle room in its budget schedule. By law, the district must allow two weeks between the budget’s tentative and final adoption.

Janet Allison, chief financial officer for the district, had said she would try to get the 2008-09 budget to City Board of Education members by Friday. But late Friday, she said she would work Saturday and today to complete the task. She couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday, by phone or e-mail.

Board member David Syfan couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday but said on Friday that he had hoped to receive a copy of the tentative budget that day, "so we could look at it over the weekend and not get hit with it cold on Monday."

Board member Sammy Smith said he wasn’t too concerned about the short review time because, as a member of the board’s finance committee, "we’ve had a glimpse at working numbers that (Allison) was to use to get us to Monday."

Other board members — Kelvin Simmons, Maria Calkins and Willie Mitchell — couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday.

The Times has requested a copy of the line-item budget as soon as it becomes available for board members.

The board’s meeting is set for 7 p.m. Monday in the cafeteria at Gainesville High School at 830 Century Place.

Board members moved the location from its normal meeting spot, the district’s central offices at 508 Oak St., to the
bigger location anticipating a larger crowd.

Budget season usually draws little, if any, interest.

But talk this year of the school system amassing a $6.6 million deficit heading into the 2008-09 budget year, which begins July 1, has attracted large and vocal groups of taxpayers to board hearings and meetings.

Superintendent Steven Ballowe, who has caught most of the heat from the public, has recommended some $4.5 million in budget cuts, along with an increase in the property tax rate to 8.34 mills from 6.96. One mill equals $1 for each $1,000 in property value.

School officials have released revenue projections for next year showing that the increase would raise an additional $4.6 million.

The total revenue projected is $55.6 million. Earlier, the system also projected next year’s expenses at $52.5 million, with the $3.1 million difference expected to reduce the deficit. Allison has said she expects it would take at least two years to get the district back into the black.

The five-member school board submitted a list of potential cuts and revenue raisers to Allison on Tuesday and asked her to analyze their impact on the budget.

Smith said he didn’t expect the tentative budget to reflect the suggested fiscal changes.

"The document that she (is preparing) will show a number of options for (tax) rates using the 2008 tax digest," he said, referring to the city’s list of taxable properties. "Between Monday and the adoption of a final budget, the administration must provide their analysis of the spending reductions and revenues."

Syfan said preparation of the tentative budget involves a sort of balancing act, as there is the potential to "really upset and stress out people that are affected by ... proposed cuts that may never happen."

"I don’t want someone to be on pins and needles for two weeks thinking that they may not have a job," he said.

The board has asked school staff to look at possible budget changes such as raising the tuition for out-of-district students, raising visitor lunch prices to $7.50 from $2.50 and rescinding senior staff pay changes since Jan. 1.