Gulf District Schools is closing the gap.



Gulf District Schools is closing the gap.

Public school enrollment, well off projections during the summer, rose in recent weeks with the first official count of students for the 2017-18 school year next month.

Once down more than 90 students from projections, the district has seen that steadily whittled to over 50, 22 and, last week, 20.

“We are trending in the right direction,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “It is good to have nice schools that people want to come to.”

Enrollment projections are a central underpinning for school funding and being off just a few students can cost a district, particularly a small district, at the bottom line.

In recent years of tight budgets, the projections and meeting the numbers has become something of a heart-in-the-throat process for Gulf District officials.

Early in each calendar year, the district, in partnership with the Florida Department of Education, establishes what the district beliefs will be the number of students enrolled during the ensuing school year.

That number becomes the crucial multiplier as the Florida Legislature each spring establishes the parameters of the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), the formula used to fund public schools in the state.

In short strokes, each number, each full-time equivalent student, translates into just over $4,000 in revenue to a school district.

Put another way, those 20 students the district is currently missing compared to projections represents, at minimum, $80,000 to the bottom line.

Since school budgets are established so early in the fiscal year, with the Legislature handing down numbers within weeks of the June start of the fiscal year, missing on projections becomes a see-saw with the state.

Fall short of projections and a district could see expected funding clawed back by the state; exceed projections means more money than initially expected for the district.

The hope for Gulf District Schools is that has the month progresses into October and the first official FDOE count of students, student enrollment also continues its recent progression to close the gap.

Pulling out for a broader look, even though student enrollment has edged into positive territory over the past three years, the district still lags far behind 15 years ago, when more than 2,200 students were enrolled.

A nadir of sorts was reached four or five years ago, when enrollment slipped below 1,700, but the past two years has hovered between 1,850 and 1,900.


Last week the Gulf County School Board held its final budget hearing, providing final approval for millage rates as well as the budget.

The millage rate falls 8.38 percent while the overall budget reflects a 12.5 percent increase in revenues.

The millage rate will fall from 7.084 to 6.536, including the voter-approved one mill additional operating levy in place the past nine years.

A mill is equal to $1,000 per every $100,000 of appraised taxable personal property.

The tentative millage is 3.34 percent above the rollback, that millage at which the district would collect the identical amount of dollars as collected this year.

The largest component, Required Local Effort, was reduced this year by Florida lawmakers from 4.633 mills to 4.108 mills, a drop of nearly 13 percent.

The district must levy the RLE to receive state funding.

Lawmakers also set the discretionary spending component, equal for all districts, at .748 mills.

The school board has sway only over the Local Capital Improvement (LCI), or millage for bricks-and-mortar dollars.

The board chose to maintain the same LCI millage, .680, which is less than half what the district is legally allowed to levy, which is 1.5 mills.

The district’s LCI remains one of the lowest, it not the lowest, in the state.

The major items for the LCI dollars include new gym lights and lunch room ovens at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, basketball goals at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, enclosing the playground area at Wewahitchka Elementary School, and one new bus.

Construction on the covered playground area is underway and should be completed before the winter break.

Spending increases were also the result of an increase in the district’s contribution to teacher retirement, a one-year record for terminal leave, or retirement, payouts and several new positions needed to meet curricular needs, said district financial officer Sissy Worley.