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BOE bypasses tax increase

The Decatur County Board of Education unanimously passed the 2011-2012 budget Thursday night, without increasing property taxes.

The general fund budget calls for $34.59 million in revenues and $36.45 million in expenses, resulting in a shortfall of $1.86 million. The system’s existing reserve fund and additional expense savings, however, will cover the shortfall.

That reserve fund, which is estimated to total $4.69 million on July 1, the beginning of the system’s new budget year, will fall to an estimated $2.82 million at the end of the year.

“We do have enough money in the fund balance to, hopefully, be able to cash flow and make it through. But it will be extremely difficult and really tight; but we have made all the adjustments that we can make,” said Superintendent Fred Rayfield.

However, with the continual reduction of state funding of public education and the elimination of roughly $2 million of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, the system stands at a crossroads.

“I asked Dr. Rayfield at what point do we reach the danger point when we are compromising the services we are providing for our kids?” said board chairman Dr. Sydney Cochran. “His response was ‘We’re about there.’”

“I’ll verify that we are at that point now,” replied Rayfield. “If something doesn’t turn around on the revenue side, the finances will begin to significantly affect the education experience that we can provide.”

Reductions in Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding from the state of Georgia have impacted the local system significantly. When adjusted for inflation, QBE funding per student is 16.3 percent lower this year than in 2001. The funding model for public education is shifting heavily to increase local responsibility.

In the last 10 years, the total of state austerity reductions in QBE funding for Decatur County is $16.8 million, the equivalent of 20.05 mills of property taxes. The 2011-2012 millage rate for the local school system will be 12.99 mills, generating an estimated $10.72 million in revenue.

In other business, the board discussed the upcoming E-SPLOST renewal election in November. The Education Special Local Option Sales Tax is a countywide one-cent sales tax used for capital and infrastructure improvements for the school system.

According to Rayfield, items in priority order that will be on the upcoming referendum include the following: Servicing existing debt associated with the construction of Bainbridge High School, renovation of the old West Bainbridge Middle school to centralize administrative offices, renovate and/or replace Jones-Wheat Elementary School and Elcan-King Elementary School, improve and maintain system technology and bus replacement.