Palm Beach Post | By Giuseppe Sabella | September 13, 2022
The Palm Beach County School Board has approved a nearly $4.97 billion budget and a slightly lower tax rate for the 2022-23 budget.
Thanks to increased property values, continued federal COVID-19 relief and boosted education funding from the state, this year’s budget tops the previous year by more than $800 million.
“With inflation and rising costs, having some additional dollars put into education this year will go a long way to meet the needs of our students,” Superintendent Mike Burke said during the budget approval last week.
The new tax rate levies nearly $6.52 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, a modest decrease from the nearly $6.88 levied last year.
A home with an assessed value of $300,000 and a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $39.24 less in property taxes if the home’s assessed value increased 3%, according to the school district.
That’s because the tax rate set by Florida lawmakers dropped slightly. In order to qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding every year, school districts are required to levy the state-controlled rate.
Meanwhile, the portion of this year’s tax rate controlled by the Palm Beach County School Board remained the same, including a voter-approved hike on property taxes that’s slated to end in June 2023.
Voters will have a chance to renew the tax in November, deciding the fate of about $275 million a year meant for arts and music education, school safety, mental health resources and improved teacher pay.
Still, despite the lower tax rate, schools are coming out ahead with a 22.3% jump in taxable property values, along with the state’s increase in education spending.
The boost in state funding, district leaders said, is meant to finance a minimum wage of $15 an hour for all district employees, along with a 1% increase in the rate for employer contributions to the Florida Retirement System.
And though schools also will benefit from about $344 million in federal pandemic relief in the latest budget, the district is working on plans to soften the blow in September 2024, when the federal grants are expected to end.
What’s included in the Palm Beach County School District’s budget?
School district budgets are broken into several pots of money and restricted to certain uses under state and federal law.
The largest pot by far is known as the “General Fund,” which includes $2.56 billion from the state and local property taxes.
It pays for all the daily operations in district schools and offices: employee salaries and benefits, building utilities, transportation, textbooks and other everyday needs.
The 2022-23 General Fund increased by 9.2% — or $215.1 million — compared with last year.
School lunches and federal grants
The “Special Revenue Fund” includes more than $661 million from a host of local, state and federal sources.
Nearly $163 million is earmarked for school meals. That includes money from the National School Lunch Program.
Another $154.3 million is from grants that each have a specific purpose, including grants for special education programs.
The remaining $344 million in special funds includes “all grants providing emergency relief funds to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools,” the budget states.
Debts and construction projects
The district’s “Capital Projects Fund” includes nearly $1.73 billion for land purchases, new construction, building renovations and routine maintenance.
This year’s capital budget increased by about $296 million, mostly thanks to the school district’s share of a one-penny sales tax increase.
And the final pot of money is known as the “Debt Service Fund.”
In this year’s budget, the pot includes more than $340 million to pay the interest and principal on long-term debt associated with large projects, such as new school construction.