The Hall County Board of Education approved the preliminary budget Monday, June 14, for fiscal year 2021-2022.
The budget includes a full rollback of the millage rate, which features a net decrease of 0.565 mills, or a 3.2% decrease in the tax rate. The general fund millage rate was reduced by 1.065 mills, but the bonded indebtedness millage rate was increased by 0.5 mills in order to fund the district’s construction projects as part of the 10 Year Facility Plan. This will put the general fund millage rate at 16.485 mills plus the additional 0.5 mill levied for bonded indebtedness for a total rate of 16.985 mills.
Under the tax rate formula, 1 mill equals $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value, and for the millage rate, homes are assessed at 40% of their actual value. So, a Hall County resident with a $250,000 home would pay $1,698.50 under this rate.
The budget features $21 million in CARES funding, with about $11.5 million from CARES II and about $10 million from CARES III, and the district will still see tens of millions in CARES money over the next two budgets, Superintendent Will Schofield said.
The temporary CARES funding will mostly go to additional staff for academic support and trauma and mental health services, but some of the funding will also go to purchasing items like new laptops and band equipment. Some of the funding will also go to the district’s agribusiness plan, including $1 million for a meat processing plant to be built near East Hall High School. The district did not think they would be able to fund this project so soon until the CARES funding came in, Schofield said.
“The CARES funding was designed realizing students have lost a lot in the last year and a half,” Schofield said. “We’re going to see that and I’ll continue to say people will write about this for generations in terms of what children (lost) — particularly children who were home for the entire time lost, children of poverty — it will be almost impossible to catch them up, but we’re going to work until our fingers bleed.”
By October of last year the district had seen as many mental health referrals as they usually see in an entire school year, Schofield said.
The district will report its suggested wage increases for teachers and staff early next week, he said. “We do believe we’re in an extremely strong position,” Schofield said.
Jonathan Boykin presented the budget highlights during the public hearing section of the board’s work session. CARES funding will be their largest portion of federal funding for the next year or two, Boykin said, where usually most of the district’s federal funds comes from Title I funds and funds for school nutrition programs.
One longtime Hall County resident and former teacher, Frank Lock, asked during the public hearing why the board had to roll back the millage rate this much. Lock said he would prefer the millage rate stay the same in order to fund major school projects. For example, he said, class sizes could possibly be reduced if the district had more revenue.
“There’s a tendency to always decrease the millage (rate),” Lock said. “No one is ever going to complain if the millage stays the same. … Why drop it? Why not use the money to do some good things for kids?”
The average age of Hall County School buildings when the district made its 10 Year Facility Plan in 2019 was 40 years, Schofield said during the public hearing discussion. “I wish ESPLOST (additional sales tax for capital improvements) was four times what it is, and we could put children in new buildings that they deserve,” Schofield said. “But that we just don’t have the money for.”