BROOKSVILLE - A state report released Sept. 5 shows statewide 2014 school taxable values are expected to improve, increasing by an estimated $38.6 billion from this March.
However, education revenues generated by Hernando County property values continue to decline, and Florida Department of Education data shows that trend has only worsened since 2008.
According to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research report, the Florida Education Finance Program allocates funding to school districts for K-12 public school operations based on shares of state funds and local funds generated from local property tax values and student enrollment figures.
Education funding from local property taxes in Hernando County has decreased to an annual rate of $15.6 million less funding than that of five years ago, or about 5 percent of this year's total school property tax.
That decrease in local property taxes constitutes most of the total annual decrease in the district's funding over the same time period, FDOE data shows, which comes to roughly $14.9 million annually.
The tentative 2013-14 budget for Hernando County Schools again projects lower property values and a lowered mill levy rate, or $2,828,889 less tax-generated revenue in the district's budget for the upcoming school year compared to last. That's a 2.33 percent reduction in property taxes for Hernando County home owners.
Amid a decreasing local school tax base, costs for Hernando County Schools have been offset by state funding in the neighborhood of $83-89 million annually over the last five years.
Local governments and boards are in the process of approving budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, and with lagging property values, compounded by ever-changing state and federal mandates, many are wondering what costs face the future of education.
"It's so unpredictable," said Hernando Classroom Teachers Association President Jo Ann Hartge. "We have so many unfunded mandates, it's difficult to try and keep up with everything."
A 10-day count of student enrollment in Hernando County released two weeks ago also showed state budget projections for the district did not match Hernando County's tentative figures, which resulted in a month-long hire freeze to protect current workers at the county's largest employer for fear of further cuts in state funding.
"They over-projected, so it's just trying to place everybody and make sure they have a position," Hartge said. "You get tired of trying to run a district when they have the mandates, but don't want to fund them. It's just difficult, because they only have so much money and its spread so thin that they're beginning to feel the effects of them."
With state and local elections coming up next year and campaigns under way, candidates up for re-election are reaching out to alleviate concerns in both sectors of the economy.
As part of his "It's Your Money" tour, Gov. Rick Scott spoke Thursday at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa about a pending $500 million in tax breaks in the future budget, marketing the tour as a discussion about what kinds of tax breaks Florida job creators and families want to see.
However, public education advocate and grassroots organization Florida For All sees it different and protested the event.
"This will be just another example of Gov. Scott serving the interests of his well-connected friends and wealthy donors at the expense of Florida's families," Florida for All Chairman Carlos Odio said in a release. "There's no question Floridians would choose their kid's education over tax giveaways for Rick Scott's friends."
The group says the protest follows Scott's cutting education by $1.3 billion while continuing efforts to give large corporate tax breaks.
"We've always said these corporations need to be paying their fair share of taxes in this state, because the homeowners and people do," Hartge said. "A lot of that money is funding charter schools across the state, so a lot of public schools are losing that funding."
The Hernando County School Board will hold its final public budget hearing next Tuesday at 6 p.m., and once approved will be the last budget prior to Common Core State Standards implementation.
Board members decried the costs of funding those mandates at their most recent meeting this month, mainly hardware, software, and personnel costs stemming from computer-based testing and assessment requirements.
"When we hear another round of tax breaks . Florida families wanted to see it in education to meet the needs of our teachers and students, and that's the thrust," said Florida For All Spokesperson Neal Waltmire. "Put it toward families first, and education."