School board approves 3-mill increase

Published 6:14 pm Friday, July 27, 2012

OSCAR DEWBERRY ADDRESSES the Decatur County Board of Education during the first of three public hearings.

After holding the state-mandated three public hearings, the Decatur County Board of Education approved a resolution Thursday night to increase the system’s millage rate by three mills. The measure passed with a 4-1 vote, with Jacky Grubbs casting the lone “no” vote.

The system’s millage rate will increase from 12.99 mills to 15.99 mills. A portion of the school system’s rate, .47 mills, is allocated to the Gilbert H. Gragg library in Bainbridge.  The increase will result in an approximately 11-percent total property tax increase for City of Bainbridge residents and 13-percent for residents in the unincorporated areas of the county.

“It’s certainly a difficult thing for us to do, to have to raise taxes,” board Chairman Dr. Sydney Cochran said. “When I came on this board 14 years ago, the State of Georgia contributed 78 percent of the funds for our budget; today they contribute 65 percent — a 13-percent difference that we have had to make up.”

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For the upcoming fiscal year, the state of Georgia has reduced the local system’s funding by $4.49 million. From the Quality Basic Education formula, which uses student population and teacher rosters to determine funding and other state funding programs, the local system earned $27.88 million.

The actual amount that the system will receive from the state is $23.39 million, a 16-percent decrease from the earned amount.

“The state has absolutely decided to ignore the funding formula that is in place, they still ask us to count our students three times per year and tell us that we earned a certain amount of money, then send us a reduced number,” Superintendent Dr. Fred Rayfield said. “If the state would simply follow the funding formula, we wouldn’t be having this discussion or this hearing today.”

Public input was brisk during the three meetings held prior to the board’s final approval of the new millage rate. One meeting was held on July 19, and two on July 26.

“I think paying taxes is an American privilege that we should be grateful for, but it is a burden on all of us,” said Decatur County resident Oscar Dewberry. “It looks like now that we are playing catch up. But this increase that we are facing is going to be a burden on all of us.”

Betty Jo Fulmer asked the board if an additional sales tax had been considered.

“The property owners in the county are carrying the burden. The only fair tax is a sales tax,” she said. “Have we thought along the lines of a referendum for a half-percent or one percent sales tax going for education?”

Rayfield indicated that the state superintendent’s association and the school board association have asked the legislature for the ability to impose some type of sales tax for school operations and maintenance. Both organizations were told that an additional sales tax was not an option.

Additionally, Rayfield said that the system has asked the state legislature for the ability to use a portion of E-SPLOST balances to help ease the current financial burden.

“We were told no, that’s not possible, because that would compromise the T-SPLOST effort,” added Rayfield.

“We, as superintendents, as board members, as educators, are asking the legislators to give us our fair share, give us what we earn. In response, they tell us to quit asking for your funding to be restored. They are tired of hearing from us and until they hear from enough citizens, nothing will change,” Rayfield said.

Board member Bobby Barber said, “Until enough of us get fed up with the reductions and we make sure those in Atlanta hear us, it will not change.”

Rayfield indicated that, in response to the reduced state funding, the system has reduced its general fund expenses by $12.1 million over the past four years. Of that total, salary and benefit reductions account for $9.65 million, through the elimination of 101 full-time staff positions, and the use of furlough days.