The third budget hearing for the Cherokee County Board of Education is July 23 at 6:30 p.m.
For a home with a fair market value of $150,000, the additional 6.89 percent would mean a tax increase of just more than $70, documents show.
Although the school district’s millage rate is proposed to fall slightly from 19.84 to 19.45 mills, the lowest since 2009, the rise in property values in the county would mean an increase in tax revenue for the district.
If its proposed budget is passed, the school district could see an $8.1 million increase in tax revenues in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
School District spokeswoman Carrie McGowan said if the school board were to roll the millage rate back to a revenue neutral number, the school system wouldn’t have enough additional funds to allow for many of the recommended improvements next school year.
“It would mean a reduction of $8.1 million in projected revenue, which would make it impossible to meet school board members’ top budget priorities of reducing class size, eliminating furlough days and restoring professional development days,” McGowan explained.
To remain revenue-neutral and not increase taxes, the district would have to roll back the millage rate to 18.197 mills, budget documents show.
“The superintendent’s recommendation to eliminate the 0.4 mills of debt service millage rate does mitigate the overall tax bill increase some property owners will see due to rising property values,” McGowan said.
The proposed $530 million budget for fiscal 2015 began July 1, but the budget won’t be formally adopted until July 23.
“Each year, the school board tables the budget for 30 days, for public review and input, and passes a spending resolution that allows the school district to operate within normal budget parameters for several weeks, until the budget is formally adopted,” McGowan explained.
The proposed budget includes five main funds, the largest of which being the general, or operating, fund.
McGowan explained the general fund, representing $347.7 million of the total budget, as “what it costs to run the day-to-day operations of the district.”
The vast majority of money in the general fund, about $215.5 million, is budgeted for instruction.
The next largest chunk of the proposed budget is the building fund, accounting for $88.8 million, with $45 million set aside for building construction.
The third biggest fund in the proposed budget is the debt service fund, which includes $57.8 million, with $29.5 million budgeted for debt service.
The other two main funds are the grants fund, at $13.5 million, and the school food service fund, at $19.9 million. All other funds included in the proposed budget account for the remaining $2.4 million.
The additional $8.1 million in projected revenue for the district, as a result of the proposed tax increase, will help to fund more than a dozen improvements, McGowan said.
“One of the reasons we are able to begin restoring and improving services without raising the millage rate is due to growth in the local tax digest, which is the value of all real property in the county. The digest has grown this year by an estimated 10 percent prior to appeals and other adjustments, which will likely result in a final actual increase closer to 7 percent,” she said.
However, McGowan added that the property tax digest increase “is now only near the same level as it was eight years ago in 2006, while CCSD has enrolled an additional 4,400 students since that time.”
Some of the improvements McGowan said the funds will go toward included: hiring 69 teachers to reduce class size at elementary schools; hiring another 196 teachers to keep up with student population growth and fill vacancies; restoring school police staff to reflect student population growth; adding 10 bus drivers to address growth; eliminating the remaining three employee furlough days; and funding longevity step increase and cost-of-living raises for eligible employees.
“Lowering class size and elimination of remaining furlough days were top priorities for the school board and will have the most profound effect on both teachers and students,” McGowan added.
A copy of the proposed budget is available online at the school district website, along with an executive summary of the proposed budget.
To find the budget documents, visit portal.cherokee.k12.ga.us/departments/pr/OGP/ and open Section B, titled “Current Budget,” then select the desired document.