SEBRING — The School Board of Highlands County approved, on first reading recently, the tentative budget and tax rate for 2020-21.

The tentative millage of 6.075 is a decrease of .045 mills from the 2019-20 property tax rate of 6.120.

The millage rate of 6.075 is about $6.08 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The tentative budget shows a projected decrease in enrollment of nine students to 12,146, which means the district could see a third consecutive year with an enrollment decrease.

Enrollment decreased by 108 in the 2019-20 school year and decreased by 131 in the 2018-19 school year.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said that projection was in January well before the pandemic.

This is new uncharted territory, he said, so it is not known how enrollment will be affected by COVID-19.

There are still a lot of parents who haven’t provided the district with their choice of instruction (online or face-to-face in school), Averyt said. “We are expecting most of those to show up. We will see. We won’t know until the first day of school.

“We are ready for parents and students to come back; We have spent a lot of money to make that happen. We all want them to feel confident in that their schools are safe and that has been what we have been working on.”

The final vote on the budget and tax rate will be on Sept. 8, but Averyt noted there is another School Board budget workshop scheduled for Aug. 18.

“It is kind of backwards for us, our fiscal year starts July 1, but the final public hearing doesn’t happen until Sept. 8 so it is always kind of strange that we are still doing budget workshops,” he said.

The district has a balanced budget, but if enrollment drops, “we’ll see,” Averyt said.

The grand total 2020-21 budget is $167.26 million, which is an increase of 827,000 from the 2019-20 budget.

The tentative budget shows a net decrease of 17.5 classroom teachers, a net increase of 9.1 school level support positions and total decrease of 4.4 positions.

In 2020-21 the district will not receive any funding from lottery proceeds, which help support the state school recognition programs of the district.

Averyt explained that Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the school recognition money. Since there were no school accountability grades in 2020 it was pulled out of the budget.