Despite an increase of $13 million from the 2017-18 school year, the budget for Charlotte County Public Schools is a shadow of what it was a decade ago.
“2007-08 is an important year to keep on the graphs to show what has happened to public school funding,” Chairman Ian Vincent said.
The total budget that year was $419,098,590, according to archived board documents.
But, after years of cuts and decreasing student numbers, the total budget for 2018-19 came to just $279,303,142, which includes the general fund, special revenue, debt service, capital projects and internal service.
“We’re still substantially below where we were before the recession,” said CCPS Chief Financial Officer Greg Griner.
And while the budget itself grows slowly back toward pre-recession levels, both the millage rate and student enrollment are still falling.
“It’s just another year of millage rate reductions,” Griner said. This year’s rate fell from 6.596 mills to 6.348 mills. One mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The district’s proposed ballot referendum, if approved by voters in November, would raise the rate by one mill.
The funding from the extra mill would go directly towards competitive salaries, increased class time and additional STEM and art programs.
On top of local sources, like those property taxes, a great deal of overall funding comes from the number of students enrolled, known as Full-Time Equivalent students. The lower the FTE number, the less money the district receives from the state.
This year’s FTE fell slightly by 4.43 from the 2017-18 school year. In some of the years following Hurricane Charley and the Great Recession, when many families left the area, that number has been in the dozens.
Statewide, the trend has been an increase in FTE, according to Griner, while Charlotte County continues to fall behind and lose students.
To calculate the amount of base funding a district receives based on enrollment, the formula is weighted FTE students — weighted means some students, like English as a second language students, are “worth more” — times base student allocation times district cost differential, according to the Florida Department of Education.
The Florida School Boards Association defines base student allocation (BSA) as “the amount of money allocated to each FTE.” One issue with BSA is that it is calculated after other funding decisions are finalized.
“As a result, the BSA often is increased or decreased based on available funding rather than actual costs,” the FSBA states.
The district cost differential takes into account the cost of living in each separate district as reported in the Florida Price Level Index.
In previous years, Charlotte’s base funding has been much lower than neighboring counties like Sarasota and Lee. In the 2017-18 school year, Charlotte was also one of only 23 districts in Florida to receive Declining Enrollment Supplement due to FTE losses.
Inflation has also proved to be a huge issue when it comes to FTE funding. According to Griner, the district would have gotten $13 million more in funding if it had kept up with inflation.
As the budget fights to bounce back, CCPS puts the funding they do receive into high-priority areas, such as implementing additional security measures and hiring more counselors and psychologists.
The final budget for the 2018-19 school year was approved unanimously and without comment.