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Local school boards don’t expect to raise taxes

POSTED: May 4, 2009 11:53 p.m.

Neither the Hall County nor Gainesville school boards anticipate a hike in property taxes this fall as the boards begin to hash out budgets for next school year.

As the Hall County school board works toward building a roughly $210 million budget, it’s looking for ways to cut about $4 million for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1.

Superintendent Will Schofield said there are several options to cut costs. He said the board is more likely to reduce employee salaries across the board rather than make deeper cuts to programs or raise property taxes.

Hall County school board Chairman Richard Higgins said raising the millage rate will be a last resort.

“We will try to do everything possible not to raise taxes,” Higgins said. “We will look at every option before we do that.”

Last year the board raised the millage rate by 0.67 mills, or 4.27 percent. One mill equals $1 per $1,000 in assessed property value, with property assessed at 40 percent in the county.

Schofield said the board has cut about $6 million from next year’s budget, including savings from the 100 Hall County teachers whose contracts were not renewed for the 2009-10 school year.

He said it’s likely a bulk of the additional $4 million cuts could come from a tentative 2 percent cut in all Hall County school system employee salaries. Schofield said a 2 percent cut could garner $3.2 million in savings.

Schofield said he and board members have discussed the potential cut with system employees, and most seem receptive given the current economic climate.

“Folks don’t want to see anymore people lose jobs,” he said.

Hall County’s tentative fiscal year 2010 budget shows the system plans to begin the upcoming fiscal year with a $6 million surplus and end it with a $4 million surplus.

“To balance this budget, we’re going to have to spend a little more of our savings next year, but that’s what it’s for,” Schofield said.

The system began fiscal year 2009 with a more than $13 million surplus according to the tentative 2010 budget. Schofield said state austerity cuts this year totaled more than $6 million and ate into the system’s surplus.

The superintendent said the system still is waiting on about $2 million of federal stimulus funds that were meant to offset state austerity cuts in fiscal year 2009. He said although the legislature approved the funds and the governor signed the
legislation, the money has yet to come through.

“It’s one of the missing pieces to our budget puzzle,” Schofield said.

Gainesville school system Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the Gainesville school board will present its first budget draft for fiscal year 2010 at 7 p.m. May 18 at the Gainesville schools central office at 508 Oak St.

She said she does not anticipate a change in the city’s millage rate.

Dyer said the board also awaits a final state audit report to give the board a concrete deficit number. The board discovered the system was running a deficit early last summer, and a state audit report has yet to conclude an exact deficit figure.

Gainesville schools finance director Janet Allison said the board anticipates a deficit of about $5.8 million. Dyer said the state auditors should give the board a verbal deficit report by the end of May. The board has said they plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.8 million this year.

Dyer said the board aims to reduce general fund personnel costs from $43 million this year to $40 million for the upcoming fiscal year. She said the system has reduced about 90 positions through attrition and another dozen or so more through contract nonrenewals and layoffs.

She said the board is in the process of evaluating whether those positions will save the system at least $3 million.

In other news, Schofield and the Hall County school board expressed intent to engage in an Investing in Education Excellence, or IE2, contract with the state board of education. The IE2 partnership will allow the system to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the state to establish a system of performance contracts that allow for greater flexibility in return for increased accountability.

Schofield said the public will be asked to provide input on the contract. He said the system could enter into the contract in about six months after the board holds public hearings on the issue.



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