I would like to share my thoughts on the upcoming vote for the Effingham County Board of Education 2012-13 school year budget. I have been praying and agonizing over the budget decisions that we will be making for weeks. Please allow me to share some facts about our situation.
Over the last several years the board has reduced its budget by approximately six million dollars. We have eliminated approximately 150 positions including an assistant superintendent, assistant principals, teachers, and many other positions within the system. Most of these reductions have been achieved through attrition. Local revenue projections are basically the same as they were in 2007. In spite of the tremendous reduction in revenue, we have recently learned that our reading scores and other test scores continue to rise. A just-released survey shows Effingham County Schools to be a top value in terms of return on investment. We rank in the lower percentile for dollars spent per child while we are in the top levels for student performance.
We have so much to be proud of in our schools. We have wonderful children, teachers, and staff. Even with all the hard decisions and cuts, we still face a dilemma. Due to falling property values in our county, the school system faces a 10-percent reduction in income, which means about $2.5 million less than last year. This local reduction is on top of continued state reductions of approximately $12 million.
I do not have an answer for making up this huge loss. The proposal is for raising the millage rate enough to keep our local revenue the same as last year. I can assure you that the superintendent and school board have looked at every alternative. The only areas left to reduce are band, chorus, athletics and vocational programs. These are all important programs for our students. We do plan to spend $1.9 million from E-SPLOST, but this will not totally close the gap.
The state law says that, if we do not raise the revenue above current levels, it is not considered a tax increase. I want to be perfectly clear regarding this matter. Out of 27,027 parcels in the county, 20,310 showed a reduction in property values. Of those, 16,920 were reduced by 10 percent or more and should not see a higher tax bill from the school system. Approximately 10,107 parcels would see a tax increase based on the assessed value of the property. As much as I hate seeing a single tax bill increase, it pains me more for our children to lose any of these awesome programs.
A friend of mine stated that elected officials often raise the millage, but never reduce it when values increase. I promise that, if I am on the school board, I will make a motion to lower the millage to keep us at the current level when our values increase.
I taught school for almost 30 years and saw first-hand how children being involved in clubs, cheerleading, sports, chorus, band, and ROTC gave them real reasons to stay focused and remain in school. Our children face so many outside pressures from evil. These programs teach them to be successful citizens, and it would break my heart to eliminate them.
Just the other day, while with some cattle farmer buddies of mine, we had the privilege of helping a young lady pick out a calf for the fair. She was so excited and intent on learning all that she could. She stated that she wanted to go to college and get a degree in agriculture. How tragic it would be if we took these types of programs out of our schools.
Please pray for our schools, our economy, and those of us facing these daunting challenges. Please contact me, the superintendent, or any board member if you have any comments or questions. God bless you!
Board of Education District 4