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Hall school system expects to spend $7 million more in 2017 fiscal year
No public comments made on proposed budget
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The proposed 2016-17 Hall County school budget would spend nearly $227 million in its general fund, but no comments were made about the proposal at Monday night’s first budget hearing.

The board held the first of three budget hearings because it is proposing to leave the millage rate at the current 18.8 mills rather than adopt the “rollback” rate of 18.599 mills.

The budget hearing also was “livestreamed” and will be archived on the school district’s website.

The fiscal year 2017 budget would spend $7,351,094 more than the current budget — an increase of 3.35 percent.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield outlined the additional spending. Of the more than $7 million in new money, about $5.5 million is for employee raises and “step” increase for teachers who add a year of experience and/or earn advanced degrees.

All school employees are going to receive a 2.5 percent pay increase, Schofield said. That would require $4 million.

The other portion of the additional money is for increased health insurance premiums — nearly all for classified employees — of $1,035,000 and 12 to 18 positions for additional students.

Schofield said the school district anticipates adding 200-400 students for the 2016-17 school year. In the 2015-16 school year, the district had nearly 27,000 students.

The budget, as proposed, would require “between $3 (million) and $5 million in reserve funds,” Schofield noted.

“It’s a solid budget. It’s a budget we can feel good about,” Schofield said. “It’s a budget, I think, that tells our employees we care about them.”

He emphasized that the school district committed to providing raises for employees, and Gov. Nathan Deal said the state would include money for a 3 percent pay increase in state funds.

Schofield noted that Deal put that money in the budget — about $4.9 million — but he said Hall County “lost” $4.2 million in what’s known as “local fair share” and equalization funds, both of which are part of the state funding formula.

The proposed budget includes a $3 million increase in the school district’s fund balance. After using fund balance money in the proposed budget, the district projects a fund balance of about $21.7 million in June 2017.

Schofield and Board Chair Nath Morris both lamented the lack of growth in the local tax digest. Schofield referred to it as “anemic,” and Morris said the board had intended to provide pay raises and roll back the millage rate if the digest had reflected “healthy growth” — as board members expected.

The school tax digest increased by 1.54 percent. The school digest is about $5.361 billion, but more than $1 billion in assessed value is exempt from school taxes. The school district can collect property taxes on about $4.28 billion in assessed value.

The insurance increase — which is for about seven months of the budget — is another in a series of premium hikes for classified employees. The total cost in 2016-17 will be about $4.3 million.

Lee Lovett, deputy superintendent, said the school district will pay $10,563.12 per employee starting in January. He noted the premiums for classified employees are reaching the same level as for teaching positions.

Schofield said the school district pays all of the cost of classified employees’ insurance. The state pays insurance for teachers.

Two more budget hearings will be held — 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. June 27. The final adoption of the budget is expected at the June 27 meeting.

The board had only two members at the meeting — Morris and Sam Chapman. A third member, vice chair Craig Herrington, called in by phone. Members Bill Thompson and Brian Sloan did not attend the meeting.

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