Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said a recent 3 percent cut in expenses could pave the way for a 2.5 percent raise for all 3,400 employees in the 2018 proposed fiscal year budget.
The superintendent added he is also willing to recommend using $1 million to $3 million in the district’s fund balance to allow for a reduction in the 18.8 millage rate, which determines how much people pay in property taxes.
“Unless there is some surprise in the local digest I can’t imagine, you should see a reduced millage rate and an increase in salary,” Schofield said this week. “Based on what I’ve heard from our board, I’m penciling in 2.5 percent (pay increase) right now.
“I’m very comfortable recommending dipping into that fund balance a little bit; that’s what it’s for,” he added. “Regarding the millage rate, our board has been very explicit about wanting to see the rate lowered again this year.”
The unknown in the budget is the local digest, which is an estimation of what the school district can expect to receive in property taxes during the 2018 fiscal year. Schofield said budget preparations have been made with expectations of a 5 percent growth in the digest, which he called “conservative.” Lee Lovett, deputy superintendent, said 5 percent growth would represent about $3.5 million to $4 million in revenue for the school district.
Schofield said the digest numbers should be available in early May in time for the revised figures to be presented at the school board’s next meeting May 8. The proposed budget presented this week included a 2 percent raise and no reduction in the millage rate.
The superintendent told board members Monday night department heads had cut 3 percent from non-salary-related budget items at his request.
Lovett said the cuts will save about $900,000 in the 2018 budget, which Scofield added would provide the additional revenue needed for a 2.5 percent pay raise for all employees.
Schofield said he had received feedback from board members on pay raises and the millage rate since the last budget discussion at a work session April 10.
The state legislature mandated a 2 percent pay increase for all teachers. Schofield said the district traditionally provides any pay raise or pay reduction for all employees. Craig Herrington, board vice chairman, said he wants to see a pay increase above 2 percent as well as a lower millage rate.
“For a number of years, we’ve done just the minimum increase and, at the downturn in the economy, (school employees) had a large cut in hours and in salary, so they kind of suffered through with that like a lot of people have,” Herrington said. “But, all we’ve been able to do is the bare minimum. We feel our teachers do a great job and the rest of our staff. As much as we can, we would like to go their way and help them.
“But on the same hand, we’re all taxpayers; I pay property taxes like everyone else,” he added. “As we get a true increase in the digest, it would be good to lower the millage rate at that time.”
Schofield and Herrington said they want to be careful about taking too much out of the fund balance because of expenses related to the opening of a new middle and high school on the current Flowery Branch High School campus in August 2018.
“That’ll have some sticker shock to it,” Scofield said of the opening of the middle and high schools. “It’s a time that we want to make sure we have planned conservatively and have some funds to pull that off.”
The superintendent added the local digest numbers will help officials determine how much the millage rate can be reduced.
“With the state cap being 20 mills and with us sitting at 18.8 and so many school districts either at 20 or bumping up against it, it’s just imperative that we try to lower that, No. 1, to give our citizens some relief, but No. 2, heaven forbid, when tough economic times come again, we have room and some options to keep our schools operating.”
The millage rate has set been at 18.8 for the past two years, according to information supplied by Schofield. The rate dropped from 19.25 mills in the 2014 fiscal year to 18.9 mills in 2015 before coming down to 18.8 mills in 2016.
The superintendent said the budget will continue to be revised until its final approval in late May.