Hall County Schools spends significantly less per student ($8,505) than the statewide average ($9,417), ranking as the 29th most efficient of 203 public and charter school systems in Georgia.
Craig Lutz, a former Hall County commissioner representing South Hall, said the school district is a bargain for his children as he pays for less than half of what it costs to educate them.
“I owe the county a lot,” he said on Monday, June 11, at a public hearing on the proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget.
Three additional public hearings are scheduled for this month: 6 p.m. June 13, 11:30 a.m. June 25 and 6 p.m. June 25 at the school district office.
Hall County Schools budget hearings
What: Public forums on proposed $255 million school district budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year
When: 6 p.m. June 13, 11:30 a.m. June 25, 6 p.m. June 25
Where: Hall County School District central office, 711 Green St., Gainesville
Note: Adoption of FY 2018-19 budget is scheduled for June 25
But Lutz retains an interest in how the school district is spending its money.
The Hall County school board is planning to slightly reduce the property tax rate to 18.29 mills from 18.50 mills to balance a $255 million general fund budget.
This will still amount to a 6 percent tax increase under state law because a full rollback of the tax rate to 17.243 mills (to account for increases in revenue from property tax reassessments) must be made to avoid a tax increase.
“Anything we can do as a community to ensure that our children are receiving the best education they can … my only concern is that if I’m paying more, I want to make sure that the kids are getting that service at the end,” Lutz said.
There’s a balance to be struck between efficient spending and funding what is needed or mandated.
“I don’t want us to be known as doing it on the cheap,” Superintendent Will Schofield said. “It’s no badge of honor to say we’re spending less to educate our kids.”
But the numbers don’t lie, and some are “unsustainable,” Schofield said.
For example, dramatic mandated increases in contributions to the teacher retirement system accounts for the bulk of the $7.7 million in additional benefits spending budgeted for next year.
These are expenses that are out of the board’s control, “but something we have to deal with,” Chairman Nath Morris added.
The proposed budget is going up $15.8 million overall, and it includes compensation increases for all employees; additional staff to open new schools; and increased security equipment to improve safety on school campuses.
It will require the district to tap about $6 million from its $31.7 million reserve fund, though Schofield said he believed that could be lowered to $2-3 million with some budget belt tightening.
“We’re very comfortable with that,” he added. “That’s what the reserve is there for.”