Doing more with less is a common theme among all of Georgia’s public schools and Jenkins County is no exception. Due to circumstances in recent years, school system budgeting has become a much more arduous task. Increased healthcare costs for the system, increased teacher retirement contributions, and energy and fuel costs are a few of the areas that have significantly increased for the school system in the last five years. At the same time, state and federal revenues have consistently declined. These years of increases in costs, and the deficits they have caused, has forced the school system to rely on a declining fund reserve.
Jenkins County school administrators and board members breathed a sigh of relief earlier this year when Governor Deal released plans to increase funds in the education budget by $314 million for K-12 education to offset the austerity reductions that have been in place for years. If you are unfamiliar with the term “austerity reduction,” this is the amount of money that is withheld from schools (unfunded) – even though it is earned through student FTE. Since 2003, schools have been underfunded every year by the state legislature. For the 2013-2014 budget year, Jenkins County schools still had a total austerity reduction of over $1 million dollars. In addition to this continued reduction in earned funds, the bottom line for the Jenkins County School System’s portion of Governor Deal’s recoupment effort was lost in a rise in the local fair share and the loss of over $300,000 in state equalization revenue.
For the past seven years, the Jenkins County Board of Education has held fast in its resolve to not raise the millage rate. The board members and Superintendent held off especially in the last three years as new industry has come to Millen. The hit to the budget this year, coupled with the drop in the tax digest for Jenkins County, just does not allow the board the luxury of waiting any longer. Mrs. Tara Cooper, Superintendent, stated, “My recommendation to the board will be to approve a two and a half mill increase for fiscal year 2015. As much as we resolve to protect the county from tax increases, we must also resolve to keep our schools running. The economics are obvious: less money from the state and less money from local taxes equals less money to operate the schools. A valid question would be, ‘Has the school system done what it could to manage these revenue reductions without raising taxes?’ The answer is a definitive ‘yes’. Our employees have been bearing the brunt of furlough days for several years now. We have cut positions, not replaced positions through attrition, and have reorganized positions so that we can continue to provide a quality, basic education to our students with fewer resources. Any further changes and/or cuts could significantly jeopardize our student progress – and student achievement is our goal. We are hopeful that the new industries coming to Millen will make a positive difference in our tax digest in the coming years so that we aren’t in this position again for a long, long time. We are not alone as a lot of other school districts are being forced to raise their millage rates as well.” In just the years 2008 to 2012, 121 of the 180 school systems had to raise their millage rates according to an analysis by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute published in 2012. Jenkins County’s school millage rate is in the lowest ten percent in Georgia.
A two and a half mill increase will add about $100, for the year, to the tax on a property that has a value of $100,000. Spread over the course of a year, this average amount of tax increase would be minimal compared to the substantial impact these funds will have on the operations of our school system and the continued progress for our local economy.
An additional clarification is regarding whether funding for our new school could be utilized in order to offset the reduction in operating costs. Mrs. Cooper explains, “The new school is being funded completely by SPLOST funds and low wealth funding from the state. Those funds can only be used for capital outlay projects and cannot be used for instructional and operational costs.”
Jenkins County Board of Education Financial Facts:
· Since 2009, each employee of the school system has lost 35 days of their salaries due to calendar reduction. They will continue to have 3 calendar reduction days this school year.
· Since 2009, the employee workforce has decreased by 43 positions.
· Jenkins County is 15th in the state with the largest cut in per pupil funding by -$767.
· State equalization funding was cut for Jenkins County $318,000 this year. The total cut since 2009 is $664,000.
· Healthcare contributions by our system have increased $605,000 since 2009.
· Teacher Retirement contributions by our system have increased $250,000 since 2009.
The school system is required to hold three public hearings to raise the millage rate. Those hearings are set for August 28, 2014 (10:00 am and 6:00 pm) and September 5, 2014 at 8:00 am. A board meeting will commence at 9:00 am on September 5, 2014 to approve the millage rate. All meetings will be held at the board office, 1152 Winthrope Avenue, Millen, Georgia.