Monroe County Board of Education set its 2019 millage rate at 15.669 and its budget for its 2019-20 fiscal year at $44.4 million at a called meeting on Aug. 6. The millage is the “rollback” rate, which means it is expected to collect the same amount of taxes as 2018; property owners should not see an increase in the BOE portion of their bills. The total bills are a combination of millage levied by the county, the school board and (if the property is in the city limits) the city of Forsyth.
The school board’s 2018 millage was 15.176, but Assistant Superintendent Jackson Daniel told the board that at his meeting with the Monroe County tax assessor on Aug. 2, he was told that the county digest is up 3.5 percent over last and should bring in more revenue because of increased values. Each mill in 2019 should generate $1.4 million.
The school board pays the county 2.5 percent for billing and collecting the taxes. After that fee, the schools should get $21.5 million in local taxes. To that will be added $526,367 from the Forest Land Protection Act grant, which Daniel said BOE will get in a lump sum this year. If BOE kept the rate at 15.716 mills instead of the rollback rate, it would expect $64,488 more revenue for the year.
Daniel presented a 2020 budget to the board on Aug. 6 that had increased 98,423 from the budget presented on June 25 as the school system got more exact numbers for expenditures and revenues. Expected revenue from the state increased almost $752,000. Although expenses for several categories decreased and it was decided not to transfer $400,000 out of the fund balance into the budget, there were increases in the expected cost for instruction, general administration and school administration. The fund balance is basically the school system’s savings account and is what it uses each year to pay salaries and other expenses before taxes are paid at the end of the year. The state allows a maximum fund balance of 15 percent of the system’s budget and recommends 12 percent.
“We have used about $500,000 of the fund balance each year,” said Daniel. “I don’t know if we can keep doing this.”
Because the school system will not take $400,000 out of its fund balance this year, it will need to borrow in the form of a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN). Daniel said when Monroe County Schools gets a TAN, it usually does so in September. Finance Director Chris Johnson said that the earlier Monroe County Schools gets the TAN, the more it will cost in interest.
“One thing I really don’t like is the TAN,” said school board member Greg Head in discussion of setting the millage rate.
“We do it very judiciously,” said Daniel.
“People are willing to pay for a great school system,” said Head.
Daniel said there are 50 pages of adjustments in the whole budget. Since the new school year started the school system has seen that it needs to hire another kindergarten teacher because the kindergarten cohort is bigger than expected with 24-26 students in classes. T.G. Scott Elementary was able to move a teacher from another position to kindergarten, but K.B. Sutton needs to hire another kindergarten teacher.
There are three vacant positions at Mary Persons. Principal Dr. Jim Finch has decided not to fill those positions until after the first semester. Daniel emphasized that the budget is always fluid. Monroe County Schools expect to get money the state has promised for safety at each school and possibly other state grants, but does not have these funds, yet, and can’t add them in the budget.
There will be a public hearing on the millage on Thursday, Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the Central Office board room, 25 Brooklyn Ave., Forsyth. After the public hearing the board plans to vote to finalize the millage.
In other Board of Education news:
• BOE also approved a Capital Outlay Project Application at its called meeting on Aug. 6. The project is to build four regular classrooms and four science labs at Monroe County Middle School for the 2020-21 school year. The expansion is needed because of having to close the William Hubbard campus and move 6th grade onto the Banks Stephens campus with 7th and 8th grades at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.
Director of Facilities and Maintenance Roger Onstott said the expansion is a $3.5 million project, and the state will fund $985,000. There are also plans to expand the lunchroom at Monroe County Middle School, but that is not part of the capital outlay project.
Superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman said there is presently enough room for students at the middle school, but there probably will not be in a couple of years. Capacity is 930 and present enrollment is about 870. Some teachers are sharing classrooms rather than each teacher having his or her assigned classroom. He said the number of students per teacher is still relatively small.
Hickman said the enrollment for the district on the first day of school for 2019-20 was 4,146 compared to 4,070 on the first day of school last year. There were 3,900 students present on Aug. 5, the second day of school this year. Enrollment at Mary Persons, at 1,122, is lower than last year, but enrollment is up at the elementary and middle schools.
Efforts are continuing to improve traffic flow on Thornton Road after the addition of the 6th grade to that middle school campus last year.
“There’s a bottle neck getting the 8th grade in,” said Onstott. “It’s a work in progress.”
Board member Priscilla Doster said that her experience taking students to school the first three days has been positive. Hickman said that traffic improved each of the three days and that there will be significantly less traffic at the middle school in the afternoons after extracurricular activities start.
• In personnel actions, Daniel said the school system hired recent retiree Kurt Greene as a long-term substitute to teach P.E. Daniel said Greene, who has about 40 years teaching experience, ‘fast tracked’ through the substitute teacher training program.
There were no new hires or changes of position. Two bus monitors resigned and one retired. A paraprofessional at Hubbard Elementary resigned and a paraprofessional hired for K.B. Sutton Elementary declined the position.