The Effingham County Board of Education set the bond millage rate at 1.178 and the millage rate for maintenance and operation at 15.57 Monday.
Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse told the board the bond will be paid in 2009.
“We feel that in order to pay for our current bond, we need to keep the millage rate at 1.178,” he said.
He told the board he recommended the millage rate to be 15.57 in order to maintain quality schools.
In a public hearing held before the special meeting to approve the millage rate, the board answered questions from the public concerning the need for additional funding.
Shearouse was asked why the system needs more teachers to help students graduate.
“The concern that we have as a board and as a superintendent myself is that we want to make sure kids finish high school,” Shearouse said. “Across the state, there’s a concern with kids not finishing high school.”
The school system is starting freshman academies at both Effingham County and South Effingham high schools to help ninth graders make the transition from middle school.
“More kids drop out of ninth grade than any other grade level, and we’ve got to reduce those class sizes so those kids get more attention, individualized attention,” Shearouse said. “We want to make sure that our graduation rate goes up.”
He said the graduation rate has increased, but the system wants to continue to improve.
Board Chairperson Vera Jones told those in attendance that part of the reason for a raise is to make sure the system keeps good teachers. She said the system did lose some teachers to Chatham County this year.
“We’re charged with public education, so we’re charged with teaching all children,” Jones said. “Some children we have a hard time getting them to school, but we’re charged with getting them to school.”
Shearouse said there are teachers also being added to teach advanced placement classes.
“High school graduates earn 72 to 75 percent more in their lifetime than dropouts earn, so to me that tells me that kids that get out of high school with a high school diploma will give back to society,” he said. “It’s a tremendous impact with getting them out of school.”
Jones said cuts would have to be made in the areas that help students who need extra help for taxpayers to feel the difference in the tax bill. She said one area that the local system heavily funds is pre-K. It would save money to cut that program, but she said the benefits make the program valuable to the system.
“Our graduation rate has improved each year the last two years, and it is something we’re working on,” she said. “I’m not satisfied with where ours is, but it is better than the majority of the state of Georgia.”
“It’s understanding what my dollar is buying,” said Effingham resident Rose Harvey. “I’m forced to give you money.”
Board member James Dasher said the system also partners with local civic groups to provide service for students such as the mentoring program for students who are in need of that program.
The board was asked why the teachers need a $1,000 raise in the local supplement when the local supplement has not been raised in 20 years.
Dasher said there are many teachers who put that much money in their classrooms every year.
“We have teachers who are willing to make their classrooms better, and I’m glad they are willing to do that,” Shearouse said.
The board also was asked about plans to build a new high school.
“Right now we’re building the two ninth grade academies to help ninth graders, which will allow those schools to get larger,” Shearouse said. “There are no plans right now for an Ebenezer High School. We are looking at a career academy, which will go down near the technical college campus.”
Shearouse said the projected cost of a new high school is $35 million and there would be additional costs for athletic facilities and personnel.
He said currently the system is expanding the high schools, which is more cost effective. The additions to the high schools will allow approximately 2,000 students per high school.
Carolyn Collins, a former teacher for the system, told the board she appreciates what the board is doing for students, and the appreciation the board has for teachers, but she wanted to present a different side.
“If I remember a teacher was given a supplement because the position was unattractive,” Collins said.
She said she thought Effingham County was an attractive county to teach in with out a supplement.
“There’s a lot of unrest in the county from citizens who are having pressure,” Collins said.
Collins said the local economy has slowed, and the tax base is weak in industry.
Collins asked the board to consider a balance between the needs of the students and the needs of the taxpayers, and asked if the system could find out why the state is reducing funding, and if there is anything the system can do about it.
Jones told the attendees that she felt it was wrong that the system to have not given the teachers an increase in the local supplement in the last 20 years.
“I don’t believe that you continue to do something wrong just because it’s what you have been doing,” Jones said.