Alachua County School Board unanimously voted Tuesday to increase the annual budget and property taxes.
The $423 million budget is a $51 million increase from the previous year’s budget.
The budget includes a property tax rate of 3.896. The previous year included a rate of 4.016. The estimated tax revenue from the tax rate increased slightly over $2 million from the previous year, accounting for rising property values, resulting in a property tax increase.
Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson said, unlike counties who set their own property tax rates, the state of Florida sets the tax rate for each school district in the state.
“Even though the school board is required to vote on [the property tax rate], the school board doesn’t have any choice,” Johnson said. “If you don’t levy the property tax rate the state tells you to, you don’t get your state funding. And for us, that’s half of our funding.”
Johnson said the school system receives two primary sources of funding, local property taxes and state funding through the Florida Education Finance Program.
Gunnar Paulson, Alachua County Public School Board member, said a priority for the school board is increasing safety and security in schools.
“We need to harden schools, make the schools more secure,” Paulson said.
The budget also prioritizes improving the grades of D and F schools in the district. Johnson said the 2017-2018 school year the district had six D and F schools and the 2018-2019 school year showed only three D and F schools.
“The goal is to ultimately eliminate all D and F schools from the district,” Johnson said. “There would be more focusing of resources into those schools that are struggling the most.”
The budget also outlines priorities such as keeping teacher salaries within the upper two-thirds of state rankings, increasing minimum wage for non-instructional full-time staff to $15 an hour with health insurance included, and eliminating the achievement gap with continued implementation of the district’s equity plan.
Johnson said the board will vote for the final budget in September.
Laura Wykoff, 44, was named Alachua County Teacher of the Year. She teaches math to students at Fort Clarke Middle School in Gainesville.