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Hall County Schools’ proposed budget includes employee raises
Classroom stock photo

Hall County Schools employees are feeling the sting of inflation, Superintendent Will Schofield said before approval of the preliminary budget at Monday’s school board meeting. 

That means pay raises across the board, though the details have yet to be ironed out.

“Our folks are hurting,” he said. “Our goal will be to reduce the millage rate. It’ll be a question of how much because this inflation is real.” 

The tax rate was rolled back last year to 16.485, though an additional 0.5 mill was levied to pay for bonded indebtedness used to fund construction projects, for a total tax rate of 16.985. It was 17.55 the year prior. 

Mental health and learning loss remain priorities as well. 

Officials noted, however, that the final budget will look significantly different from the preliminary one, given the mix of variables — inflation, pay raises and federal coronavirus relief funds. The final budget will be adopted June 27. 

The district is projecting an ending balance of around $65 million for the upcoming fiscal year. School board member Nath Morris echoed Schofield’s remarks, saying it’s time to dip into that rainy day fund to take care of employees. 

“We just have a lot of people that are hourly employees that are making $11-$12 an hour,” Schofield said in an interview with The Times. “It’s a mighty heavy lift in this economy to try to pay your bills with that pay.” 

At the same time, he said, they must keep in mind that “this economy’s going to be cyclical.” 

“If you jack salaries way up and use up your balance in one or two years, you still got those salaries and your balance is gone,” he said. 

The Great Recession looms large in budget deliberations. 

“We saw $20 million evaporate so fast it made our head spin,” Schofield said. In 2009, the school system instituted districtwide pay cuts and laid off about 125 teachers, all while gaining about 300 students. 

“The last thing we want to do is put ourselves in a position where 12 months from now, 18 months from now, we're letting people go, we’re taking pay away,” Schofield said. “And we've lived that in the Great Recession. We really want to be cautious while we do as much as we can for our people and really try to find that balance.” 

Teachers received a $2,000 bonus as part of Gov. Brian Kemp’s $30.2 billion state budget. That bonus will turn into a salary raise for teachers. 

Not all teachers or employees qualified for the initial bonus, however, and the school system had to spend between $2.5 and $3 million to provide bonuses to the 900 or so employees who were not covered. 

Pay raises are being planned for all employees, including classified employees, such as landscapers, school security guards and custodians. It is not yet clear how much more employees will be paid or what form the pay raises will take. 

The district will see $6.4 million added to its budget after Kemp eliminated the austerity cuts that have occurred in 18 of the last 20 years in the state’s education budget. 

But for the first time, Hall County Schools will not be awarded state equalization funds, which provides state funding to poorer districts with less property tax revenue. That amounts to a $5 million loss. 

“We have historically in Hall County always received that,” Schofield said. “This is the first year we have not.” 

“It’s a blow,” he said. “But keep in mind, the local digest went up 16% … so I can't complain about the fairness of the system. You can't have it both ways. You can't be doing well locally and expect to get the equalization and fair-share money from the state.”