Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014

Hernando school board looks to fix inequities in state funding formula


BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando County school board is acting quickly to develop an action plan to present during this year's legislative session that would undue inequities in the state's education funding formula.

Chief Financial Officer George Gall offered a simplified view of the complicated formula to board members during a workshop Tuesday that attempted to explain why the district says it's facing a nearly $15 million annual shortfall in state funding.

Smaller districts like Hernando that have increasing student populations and lower property tax values get shortchanged in the state's funding formula, Gall said. The discrepancy has been in place since the formula's implementation in 1973.

"That's where we get shortchanged," Gall said. "That's a key component to how this is calculated."

Since 1973, the population in Hernando County has increased by nearly 854 percent, or from 17,583 to 165,758, according to a 2010 report presented at the workshop. Of those residents who are property owners, 71 percent pay less than $300 per year in property tax, due to decreasing property values and property tax rates.

Meanwhile, education funding from local property taxes in Hernando County has decreased to an annual rate of $15.6 million less than that of five years ago.

Unlike school districts with larger populations and property tax bases to pull from for education funding, property values in Hernando are not as high or stable, which restricts Hernando and other less-funded counties from tapping into similar revenue streams.

That is due to how the state's funding formula is modeled, Gall said, and the majority of funding for Florida's 67 school districts comes from state appropriations.

"It's reverse Robin Hood, if you will," he said.

Per student, Hernando County ranks 57th in funds received from the state out of Florida's 67 districts, according to 2012-13 data. Hernando County receives an average of $672 less funding per student for daily operations costs than the state average.

Hernando County receives $8,263 per student, data shows. By comparison, Citrus schools receive $9,107 per student in state funding, Pasco schools receive $8,617 per student, Pinellas receives $8,854 per student and Hillsborough receives $9,191 per student.

If Hernando received the median level of state funding - $8,935 - the district's 21,714 students would receive about $15 million more every year.

Shawn Foster, of the Tallahassee-based lobbying firm, Southern Strategy Group, recently helped secure more than a million dollars in state funding for the district's adult education program at Nature Coast High School.

With lobbying efforts, a measure to correct the situation could be presented to the state legislature this year, Foster told board members at the workshop.

"Tackling this is not going to be easy," he warned. "If we do nothing, nothing happens. Most people have accepted (the funding inequities) - it's always been that way - (but) you would want to make a coalition with those other counties, because those (well-funded) counties aren't going to want to give it up."

School Superintendent Lori Romano recommended an emergency workshop be scheduled to discuss the issue, and devise an action plan before the Florida School Board Association meeting in Tampa on Dec. 3. The board intends to seek support for the plan from board members of districts from across the state who also receive lower funding.

"It's late in the game," said board member John Sweeney. "We need to act quickly."

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