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School system finds comfort zone in budget
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The Effingham County Board of Education’s initial projections for its fiscal year 2015 budget are for revenues to exceed expenses by $1.6 million.

Though the numbers cannot be firmed up until school officials receive the county property tax digest, preliminary figures are for $86.9 million in revenues and $85.3 million in expenses for the fiscal year beginning on July 1.

“So far, so good,” Chairman Lamar Allen said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

The millage rate, used by the school board to calculate local school taxes to be collected, is expected to remain at 16.897 for the third straight year.

“We don’t anticipate any need for a change in the millage rate at this point,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse.

The board of education will take public comment on the budget at its May 15 and June 19 meetings, at 7 p.m. The board is scheduled to approve the budget and adopt the millage rate at the June 19 meeting.

For now, school officials are basing their calculations on the property tax revenue budgeted for the current fiscal year — $25.1 million. They hope to receive the updated tax digest in the next couple weeks, and Shearouse expects it to show an uptick in local property values.

“I predict (the tax digest) will be up,” he said. “The digest has fallen a lot over the last five years, so certainly we’ve collected a lot less in property taxes.”

The fiscal year 2015 budget includes projected revenue from Georgia’s new method of taxing motor vehicles. School officials anticipate collecting $1.1 million from the TAVT (title ad valorem tax), after not budgeting for it in FY 14.

Effingham County schools are expected to receive $57.4 million from the state in Quality Basic Education funding, up from $54.5 million in the current budget. That is despite a $510,000 cut in equalization — funding the state provides to lower-wealth school districts.

“We didn’t get great news there,” Shearouse said. “We lost a little money.”

That reduction is offset by $806,000 the school system still has from the state’s midterm adjustment last year. Effingham received the money because of its growth in special courses such as CTAE (career, technical and agricultural education), the gifted program and special education.

School officials rolled those funds forward in anticipation of needing them to help meet the budget. However, the school district has not yet had to spend the money.

In addition, some revenue from the current $83.4 million budget could carry over to FY15.

“We’re very close on collecting what we projected to collect this year already, and we still have April, May and June left in this budget process,” Shearouse said. “So I think we’re going to have some savings on our budget for this year.”

Increases in expenses include $629,000 for step raises teachers are due based on their years of experience, and a $1 million hike in Teachers Retirement System of Georgia health insurance coverage.

“The state did help us out on the non-certified employees this year by not making us go up on health insurance there, which they had planned in previous years,” Shearouse said.

The school system’s payroll for all its K-12 teachers will be $42.8 million in FY 15, a slight increase from $41.9 million in the current budget. Some teachers raised their salaries by earning higher academic degrees.

“We’re not planning to add a lot of teachers in any of those grade levels,” Shearouse said.

School board budget timeline

April 17
Board of Education meeting, 7 p.m.
Receive preliminary property tax digest from county tax assessor

May 15
Board of Education meeting, 7 p.m.
Public comment on budget
Tentative approval of budget and millage rate

June 19
Board of Education meeting, 7 p.m.
Public comment on budget
Approval of budget, adoption of millage rate