In shadow of COVID-19, Collier schools approves $1.2 billion budget, slight tax increase

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Naples Daily News | by Rachel Fradette | July 29, 2020

The Collier County school board voted unanimously Tuesday on an initial approval of a property tax rate and a $1.2 billion budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The board tentatively approved its proposed budget, an increase from last year’s $1.16 billion budget.

All board members voted in favor of the tentative budget and tax rate, but the board will vote again on a final version of the budget in September.

The $5.0160 per $1,000 of taxable property value exceeds the roll-back rate by 1.79%, which means the district has a slight tax rate increase this upcoming year.

A roll-back rate brings in the same amount of money as the previous fiscal year, according to Florida statutes.

The previous year’s property tax rate was $5.0830 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

Property tax proceeds would generate about $498 million for the district.

Bob Spencer, head of financial services for the school district, said potential new costs — from COVID-19 to salary increases — could result in changes to the district’s projected budget reserve.

“It’s a process,” Spencer said during his presentation to the board on the district’s budget deficit. “We’re going to have to adapt to the changes we’re facing.”

Collier County Public Schools. Carolina Hidalgo/Naples Daily News.

During an initial presentation to the board on the budget in June, the district’s projected budget shortfall reserve was about $34.7 million.

The district’s new projected budget shortfall reserve sits at about $32.4 million 

The fiscal year 2020-21 deficit is projected to eat away at the reserves until about $2.9 million remains, Spencer said.

“We’re clearly going into those reserves,” Spencer said.

That deficit spending stems from the COVID-19 costs related to switching to virtual learning, among other items. 

Nutrition services in the district has a projected deficit of $3.6 million for the fiscal year tied to support during the pandemic, Spencer said. 

“That was the best forecast they had when we asked them for their budget,” Spencer said.

Spencer said state or federal reimbursement could change that number in the future. 

The new eCollier Academy, one of the four options for student learning this fall, is estimated to cost the district $2.7 million, which also adds to the projected deficit.