The Effingham County Board of Education approved a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes teacher pay raises, increased pay for non-certified personnel, additional assistant principals at each middle school and one additional band teacher for each of the system’s three middle schools.
Board members voted unanimously, 5-0, to adopt the fiscal year 2016 budget of $90.3 million and to set the millage rate at 16.435, which is the rollback rate. That means there will be no property tax increase for this year’s school system budget.
“Everything was accomplished,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse. “It’s a great day, I think, for our employees and for the school system as a whole. When you think about the value of the arts and increasing those positions, it really is a great day.”
“I thank everyone for their work on it,” said board Chairman Lamar Allen.
By using the millage rollback rate, the school system will collect a fraction less in property taxes than it did for the soon-to-end fiscal year.
Property taxes brought in $24.73 million last year and are expected to generate about $7,000 less than that for the coming budget year.
Total locally-generate revenues are expected to go up more than $400,000, with an additional $300,000 coming from the new tag and title fees and payments in lieu to taxes to be $150,000 over last year’s total.
But what may have helped the school system meet its goals and add the middle school band positions was finding out that an overpayment had been made for Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes, or FICA.
Shearouse said the school system discovered they had paid $400,000 extra in FICA for their substitute teachers, and the return of that money buoyed the bottom line.
“We were able to use that amount to accomplish our ultimate goal,” he said.
Board members debated adding additional music instructors at the three middle schools and the proposed pay raises. The school system projects using about $50,000 per teacher in salary and benefits, a sort of median rate between experienced and newer teachers.
The school system projects to collect $150,000 less in grants but it’s allotment from the state under the Quality Basic Education act is expected to climb from $57.4 million to $59.5 million. Shearouse said he received a survey on what school systems expected to do with their additional QBE fundings — restore furlough days, add instruction days or extend pay raises to employees. He noted Effingham schools have not had furlough days and haven’t cut the school year down in the last few years.
The school system will have a 2 percent salary enhancement for all certified and salaried employees, with the additional QBE funds. With the 3 percent raise from last year, for a 5 percent total. Qualified employees also are eligible for a 3 percent step raise.
Non-certified employees will get a 5 percent pay bump in FY16, with the goal of continuing that raise for another two more years. That, Shearouse explained, should get the lowest-paid employees to around $10 an hour.
“That will be a raise and they will start getting that starting depending on their work schedule,” he said, pointing out some employees start in July and others in August. “They will realize that sooner than later.”
Shearouse also said the bonuses, given last year, will be disbursed in a similar manner this year, with 2.5 percent around Thanksgiving and another 2.5 percent somewhere around the end of the school year.
In addition to the extra music teacher at middle school, the system will add two teachers at each of the two high schools, and another teacher to split time at each high school. There also will be five new elementary school teachers, with one of them an additional physical education slot. Each middle school also gets an assistant principal spot back.
The middle schools also will get one and one-third chorus teacher positions, giving each middle school its own chorus teacher and allowing the high schools to expand their chorus programs, according to Shearouse. The middle schools also will get two additional remedial math teachers, and the school system will add an entry-level technology position.
School board members also approved a change in their policy to reflect local legislation that passed through the General Assembly this year. The act enables the school board members’ pay to go to $200 a meeting, with the chairman getting $250 a meeting. A similar bill was passed but ultimately vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal, since it made a reference to the use of state funds. Only local funds can be used for school board members’ compensation, Shearouse said. Board members’ pay had been set at $100 per meeting since 1987.
“Everyone should be commended on the budget,” Shearouse said. “It does a lot for our employees. It does a lot for schools. And it does it all without increasing taxes.”