District officials received an overview of where the county’s budget was projected initially. They also were briefed on the possibility it could all change in the coming months.
TAVARES — The Lake County School Board received a budget overview for the 2020-21 school year at their Monday workshop, discussing uncertainty created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Scott Ward, the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, ran through a short presentation of the budget as predicted under a statewide budget agreed upon by Florida legislators earlier this year.
Ward noted quickly that the budget hadn’t been delivered to the governor, and may be changed quite a bit by COVID-19’s impact on sales tax revenues.
“The legislators have not officially delivered the budget to the governor,” Ward explained to board members. “I’m not really quite familiar with the that process but I believe that once they deliver it to the governor, it starts a clock for him to have to go through and make his vetoes and make his approvals, and I think they’re really waiting on doing that until they get more of a financial picture of the impacts of COVID-19 on the state.”
Under that potential budget, Ward said that the school district was projected to see around $15 million more next year than this year, which would break into coverage for student growth, teacher salaries, and “other categoricals.”
After paying down those expenses, around $1.7 million would be left, which may have been funneled to the Family Empowerment Scholarship — which pays for private school tuition for low-income students — due to an expansion of the scholarship by the legislature.
It would be a small increase for a budget which last year held $423.5 million in the district-controlled general fund — which covers operational costs and salaries — and $703 million in total allocations.
But the economic impact of COVID-19 is not yet understood.
One big holdup, Ward explained, are financial reports which show sales tax revenue impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
March numbers are available, but the state wasn’t locked down then. Coronavirus cases were also only just taking a foothold in the state, at least according to available testing.
April’s sales tax numbers won’t likely be available until “mid to late May,” Ward said.
In the case of a massive economic impact, the federal government’s CARES Act does provide some relief. Ward said the district is expected to receive about $10.1 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and potentially some more from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, though that number is discretionary to the governor.
A Federal discretionary grant fund is also available, though Ward said he expects the $10.1 million to be the largest single amount they’ll get, and it’s the only money they know about right now.
In any event, he said the district will use that money first to make sure student services go uninterrupted, and current employees are kept on the payroll.
“I think until we figure out our financial picture, in our district, that...is what we need to plan o using the funding for,” he said.
In the meantime, Lake County School District officials and school board members will continue to plan a budget based on the plan put forth by legislators. The district has a timeline for budget planning they have to meet.
They’ll also discuss contingencies and prepare for a smaller budget as well, Ward said.
“Those conversations are going to be taking place soon,” he said.