Finance and administrative services director Tom Taylor outlined three possible budgets for the Board of Education. The options ranged from maintaining the property tax rate of 16.55 mills, to imposing a 1.5 mill hike, which would be a 9 percent increase. That means local taxpayers will pay from $16.8 million to $18.3 million to operate the county’s public schools, and the total budget will be between $58.9 million and $60.4 million.
The board’s last property tax increase was in 2001 under the previous administration, Superintendent Roy Sapough said.
Board members could find little to squabble about in the proposed budget. The school system’s budget year begins July 1 and runs through June 30.
“When I look at this budget, it’s lean,” board member Sandra McKinley said. “There’s not a lot extra in there.”
If the board holds the line and does not increase its property tax rate, the proposed budget would leave an ending balance of about $800,000, instead of the $3.4 million left in reserves at the end of fiscal 2004, Taylor said.
The school system should maintain a reserve fund of at least 10 percent of the total budget, or about $5.9 million, and should not consider keeping less than 5 percent at the end of the year, Sapough said. The contingency funds are there in case of emergencies like failed heating and air units or buildings damaged during storms.
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“There’s one thing every month I can expect, and that’s the unexpected,” he said.
One reason the school system is falling behind financially is state budget cuts and employee funding shortfalls, Sapough said. The cuts from the past two years and the projected cuts in 2005 will probably total more than $6 million.
“We’re $6 million short coming out of the gate,” he said.
The state allots a certain amount of money to pay teacher salaries and benefits, but personnel director Ed Combs said it does not fully fund the teachers needed to educate Walker’s student population.
The Walker County Board of Education plans to adopt its tentative budget Tuesday, July 6, during a called meeting at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the administrative services office in the old LaFayette High School on Cherokee Street. A series of public hearings and advertisements will soon be set before the budget is formally adopted. For more information about Tuesday’s meeting, call (706) 638-1240.
“(State legislators) are saying this is how many (teachers) we’ll give you, but it’s not what you need to run the schools,” Sapough said. “We can’t operate efficiently with less.”
Funding is based on minimum classroom sizes that vary by student age and need, student participation in the free- and reduced-lunch program and many other factors.
“There probably aren’t 10 people in the state who fully understand school funding,” Combs said. “It’s an awful, ungodly beast.”
In unrelated business, the board unanimously approved David Friend to serve as principal at LaFayette High School