By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA - The average homeowner will pay about $620 in property taxes for the county's public schools next fiscal year, 2012-2013. That's about $30 less than for this fiscal year.
At its last regular meeting, Sept. 11, the Volusia County School Board approved 2012-2013 budgets that totaled $766.5 million, about $40 million less than last year. It approved a $459.2 million operating budget, which is about $8 million less than last year.
"I think the budget is responsible," Dr. Al Williams, school board chairman, said in an interview after the meeting. "It's a responsible budget. We're trying to save jobs and programs, which we will if we pass the $1 tax."
Mr. Williams was referring to a temporary property surtax voters will decide in November. Mr. Williams said that he expects Volusia County voters will support the proposed surtax, $1 per $1,000 of accessed, non-exempt property value. Dr. Robert Moll, deputy superintendent for finance and business, has previously told the school board that the average Volusia property taxpayer would see about an $80 increase if voters approve the referendum.
At the meeting, the board adopted a property-tax rate of $7.89 per $1,000 of assessed, non-exempt value for fiscal year 2012-13.
The property appraiser has put Volusia's taxable value at about $26.5 billion, the fifth year of decline. In 2007, the appraiser valued the county at more than $42 billion. The appraiser's office puts the average value of a Volusia home at $103,500. That's down from about $105,000 in 2011. With the adopted tax rate and assessed, non-exempt value of most homes, Mr. Moll projected the average school tax bill to $620.
The school district is continuing to lose students, too, which it has since 2007. The student drop affects state funding, and it could cause the school board to adopt downward budget amendments in coming months.
"We've essentially lost an elementary school," Mr. Moll said in a phone interview. "Right now, as we sit here today, we're 700-plus (students) below projection."
At the meeting, Mr. Moll told the board, "I can't tell you why we're having the decline. We weren't expecting it. I can tell you this - it's mostly from the southwest."
According to the district's annual 20-day count last school year, Volusia had just more than 61,630 students among its 69 schools, about 50 fewer than the previous year. The 700-plus enrollment-drop estimate is for the next student count.
District officials thought student enrollment declines had ended. In May 2007, just over 64,000 students attended Volusia's public schools. The projection at the time was that the county's public schools would have more than 70,000 students by the start of this school year.
With continuing budget cuts and student reductions, the district has been cutting positions by eliminating them as people left for various reasons. The adopted budget will cut 247 more teaching positions. The district has about 4,400 teachers, which is down from about 4,650 in the 2010-2011 school year.
School Board member Stan Schmidt, Port Orange, said in an interview that the district is suffering from continuing budget cuts.
"We're having to get rid of programs that absolutely help kids," he said. "We haven't bought busses in four years. That's getting to be a problem. A few years ago our technology budget was $12 million. In this budget, it's $2 million."