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School board approves budget and trims millage
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Effingham County Board of Education members have approved a budget that is larger but also reduces the millage on property taxpayers.

Board members unanimously adopted the fiscal year 2017 budget, and the budget calls for $97 million in spending. Revenues are projected to be $94.2 million, and the use of fund balance will cover the difference.

The budget keeps intact 3 percent raises for certified employees and 5 percent pay hikes for non-certified employees. Step raises also will be given for employees who qualify.

“We are very fortunate to meet our budget and give raises,” said Chairman Lamar Allen. “We are very fortunate.”

Even with the use of $2.8 million in fund balance, that category is expected to grow by a $1 million to more than $11 million.

“We tried to keep the use of fund balance the same,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said.

Included in the budget is $100 additional health insurance coverage per person per month for six months for non-certified employees. The budget also will provide four new elementary school teaching positions, nine special education positions, three Reading Recovery positions and an Advanced Placement teacher at the Effingham College and Career Academy.

The school system is adding 10 science, technology, engineering and math teachers at the ECCA for the STEM academy that is under construction. Effingham County and South Effingham high schools are getting seven new teachers each, in order to give teachers two planning periods every day.

The budget approved by school board members also has funding for substitute bus drivers and for a highway impact fee.

Board members approved a budget that will take in about $40,000 less in local revenue from the draft budget presented last month. Local revenue sources will account for nearly $28.7 million of the budget, and $64.1 million of the school system’s projected $94.2 million in funding will come from the state.

Property taxes made up $24.7 million of the system’s local revenue last year and are projected to provide $25.2 million in revenue for the FY17 budget. The school board will be reducing the millage rate to 15.991, down from 16.435.

”It’s good news for the district and good news for the taxpayer,” Shearouse said. “We are having an increase in growth in our county. We are rolling back the millage rate.”

Payments in lieu of ad valorem taxes are going down by $100,000, decreasing to $1.65 million, but the TAVT proceeds are projected to rise from a budgeted $1.5 million in FY16 to $1.8 million for the next budget year.

Effingham County students could be getting a more comfortable ride starting next school year.

Board of Education members have approved retrofitting 52 buses with air conditioning and outfitting six newly-purchased buses with air conditioning.

“It’s a good number of buses, to be sure,” Shearouse said.

Board members approved a bid from TransSouth at a cost of $453,157 to retrofit the existing buses with air conditioning and a cost of $51,414 to place air conditioning on the six new buses.

Brett Martin, the school system transportation coordinator, said buses that are 2008 models and older won’t have air conditioning placed in them because those buses likely won’t be in service for an extensive time. Special education buses already have air conditioning onboard.