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School system employees in line to get raise
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Effingham County School System employees are on track to receive their first cost-of-living raise since 2008-09.

The Effingham County Board of Education gave tentative approval Thursday to the fiscal year 2015 millage rate and budget, which includes a 3 percent pay raise for all school system employees.

“Our employees have worked very hard over the last several years and haven’t received a cost-of-living raise, so we’re very proud of what they’ve done,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse. “This is a small way to reward them.”

The school board voted 4-0 in support of an $88.9 million budget and 16.635 rollback millage rate for FY 15, which begins July 1. Final approval is scheduled for the June 19 board of education meeting.

The pay raises total $2 million and are part of a $5.5 million increase in expenses from the current fiscal year budget. Other increases include $1.8 million for additional employees, $650,000 for teacher step raises, a $500,000 hike in the district’s contribution to the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia and $70,000 for classroom supplies.

The county’s tax digest is expected to remain about the same as last year, with the school system projecting to receive $25.1 million in local property tax revenue. Funding from the state is $57.4 million, up from $54.5 million for the 2014 fiscal year.

“We were frugal when we went through some very hard times,” Shearouse said. “We were able to save some money during those times and we feel like, with increased state revenue, this allows us to give that (pay) increase to our employees.”

The pay raises, new staff hires and other budget increases push the school system’s FY 15 expenses over its revenue. All told, projected expenses are $88,954,915 and revenues total $86,961,679.

To make up the nearly $2 million shortfall, the board of education will use more than $1.2 million it never spent from the state’s mid-term adjustments the past two years. The remainder of the deficit will be covered with funds from the district’s general operating account.

“We’ve been fortunate that the fund balance has grown over the last several years,” Shearouse said, “and so we’re going to be able to lean on that for the difference between expenses and revenue.”

The new teaching positions in the budget include five special education teachers and six elementary school teachers. The elementary teachers will be assigned to schools where some class sizes were getting too large “so that those classes are much more manageable,” Shearouse said.

Also, three more Spanish teachers will be hired, to instruct middle and high school students. Spanish will be offered in Effingham County’s middle schools for the first time next year.

“Students will be able to get a Spanish credit at middle school,” Shearouse said. “They also can get a physical science credit in middle school now, so they really are going to enter high school with a leg up from what they have.”

The additional money for supplies includes $100 designated for every classroom in the county. Teachers will be able to spend the money for their own classroom needs or combine funds with other teachers to make a larger purchase.

“Hopefully this will be a little help for them,” Shearouse said. “I know $100 doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you think about teachers being able to pool their resources … If they want some classroom novels, for example, they’ll be able to pool their money together and buy those books they want for their classroom.”

The 16.635 millage rate is a rollback from the 16.897 the board of education has had for its past two budgets. The rate is rolled back to accommodate a slight increase in projected local revenue this year.

Though property tax revenue is expected to remain the same as last year at $25.1 million, Effingham County will collect money from Georgia’s new method of taxing motor vehicles. School officials anticipate receiving $1.1 million from the TAVT (title ad valorem tax), after not budgeting for it in FY 14.

“If you approve the millage rate we had last year, it’s considered a tax increase, where approving the rollback rate is not a tax increase,” Shearouse explained. “If your (property) value stayed the same (as last year), you’d pay a little less in school taxes. If your rate went up, you may or may not pay a little bit more.”