Oconee County School administrators are asking the Board of Education to approve a $82 million Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Budget that is based on a reduction of the millage rate to 16.5, the lowest rate for county schools since 2003.
The proposal received a positive response from the Board at its work session on Monday and is scheduled to be adopted as a tentative budget at the Board’s meeting on this coming Monday.
At the meeting earlier this week, members of the Board continued to express their frustration with county plans to build roundabouts at the bus entrance and parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School.
Under questioning from Board Member Tim Burgess, Jake Grant, director of facilities for the school system, told the Board that, were it his decision, he would not recommend going forward with the construction because there is no guarantee it can be completed by the start of school on Aug. 7.
Burgess also pushed Grant to explain the county’s rationale for the construction of the roundabouts, and Grant expressed uncertainty in answering.
Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell was in the audience for the meeting, clearly visible to Board Chair Tom Odom, but Odom did not invite Daniell to speak and answer the question.
Saranna Charping, chief financial officer for Oconee County Schools, presented the tentative budget to the Board along with a PowerPoint outlining its features.
|Charping With Wayne Bagley And Tim Burgess|
The budget shows $80.9 million in revenue, with 45 percent coming from local sources, primarily property taxes, and the remaining 55 percent coming from the state.
The funding ratio is slightly changed from a year ago, when 46 percent of the revenue was local and 54 percent was from the state.
In real dollars, the state contribution is $39.8 million in the current fiscal year budget and is projected to be $44.5 in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget before the Board.
The increased state funding includes the $3,000 in teacher raises approved by the legislature in the just-completed session.
The bulk of the projected spending is for instruction, $58.4 million or 71 percent of the budget. That money is for instructional salaries, and it was $55.0 million a year ago and was 70 percent of the budget.
Maintenance and operations makes up 8 percent of the budgeted spending, or $6.8 million, up from $5.9 million a year ago.
Student transportation is 5 percent of the budget, or $4.1 million, up from $3.9 million a year ago.
The budget includes money for 34 new positions, compared with 22 new positions added a year ago.
Charping said the school system is expected to grow from 8,000 to 8,300 students in the coming year, necessitating the growth in personnel. (Note: This is a correction from the earlier version. I apologize for the error.)
Millage Rate Proposal
The tentative budget Charping presented shows $1.4 million more in expenditures ($82.3 million) than revenue ($80.9 million).
The gap is to be made up by drawing on the Fund Balance (or savings), which is projected to stand at $15.7 million at the end of the 2020 Fiscal Year. The Fund Balance at the end of the current fiscal year is projected to be $17.2 million.
In the current fiscal year budget, the Fund Balance was projected only to be $13.3 million, meaning savings are $3.9 million more than projected.
The proposed millage rate of 16.5 compares with the current millage rate of 17.0.
The rate has been 17.0 for the last four years. The Board decreased the rate from 18.5 in 2013.
In 2003, it was 16.3.
The drop in the millage rate from 17.0 to 16.5 means that the owner of a $300,000 home with the homestead exemption in the unincorporated parts of the county will pay $59 less in property tax next year than this year.
Members of the Board have expressed opposition in recent meetings to the construction of roundabouts on Malcom Bridge Road at the parent and bus entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School.
The primary concern has been the time line for construction and the possibility that the work might not be done by the time school starts in August, but Board members also have expressed suspicion that the design might not resolve existing problems of traffic flow.
Director of Facilities Grant updated the Board on the roundabouts at the meeting on Monday, opening up a new round of statements of concern.
Grant said three meetings of school officials had taken place with Board of Commissioners Chair Daniell and his staff, including one on April 30.
Daniell had entered the room and taken a seat just in front of School Board Chair Odom and was present for all of Grant’s report.
Burgess Took Lead
School Board member Burgess was most assertive in questioning Grant about his report on the meetings with the county, but all five Board members asked questions.
|Burgess Asking Grant About Time Line|
“You and your folks have obviously had a lot of conversations with county staff and others about this project over the last several weeks,” Burgess said. “Can you give me a sense of what the, what the needs for this is, what is driving, what is driving the need to redesign the roads in this fashion and create all the issues that we’ve talked about?”
Grant said the developer of the shopping center under construction between Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road had said in the rezone narrative that the development was going to create additional traffic in the morning and evening peak hours of school access.
“So I think the county recognized that this development that is proposed is going to add to the traffic flow on Malcom Bridge Road,” Grant said in response to Burgess.
Commission Chair Daniell stated explicitly at the Board of Commissioners meeting on April 30 that the shopping center development was a key factor in the decision to change the design of the intersections on Malcom Bridge Road, and traffic was a major topic of discussion in the rezone decision in October of last year.
Grant Questions Time Line
Grant told the Board that the school system has no plan for what to do if the entrances are not completed by Aug. 1, the date the county has given for when it expects work to be completed.
|Grant With Bagley And Burgess|
“You’ve got a lot of experience in developing projects around school systems,” Burgess said. “Do you think this project can be finished by the time school starts?”
“I think it is going to be extremely difficult to do it,” Grant said.
Grant said he had not even seen the plans yet for the parent entrance, “So it is hard to evaluate work without seeing the plans.
“If I had to give you an answer, it seems doubtful.”
Burgess asked Grant, were he in charge of the project, “Would you tell us that you could still complete this project?”
“No sir,” Grant said. “I wouldn’t commit.”
During the recognitions section of the meeting, the Board recognized students who had won state-wide awards in academic and athletic competitions.
The awards were for business math, financial math, accounting, business calculations, website development, illustrated talk, job interviews, promotion, leadership, life and event planning, coding, nutrition, medical assisting, healthy lifestyle, promotional graphics and entrepreneurship.
The athletic awards were for men’s diving, women’s breaststroke, women’s individual medley, men’s butterfly, men’s freestyle relay, men’s medley relay, and men’s swim team.
Claire Buck, chief academics officer for the school system, reported that the the Strategic Planning process has come to a close.
The action team working on the plan had met in January with the Georgia School Board Association and the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement as part of the process, Buck reported.
Buck also said that the superintendent is recommending that the Board of Education approve at its meeting on Monday the purchase of $1.4 million in Chromebooks for students as part of the system’s program to give every student a mobile computing device.
Funding will come from the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Buck said.
The Chromebooks are for student use related to academic and extracurricular needs, Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications, told me in an email message on Tuesday. The students will keep the devices over the summer to help increase access to summer learning at home, she said.
The first video below is of the meeting on May 6.
The recognition of students begins at 2:44 in the video.
The discussion of the roundabouts begins at 27:44 in the video.
Charping previewed the tentative budget beginning at 54:03 in the video.
The second video is only of the recognitions section of the meeting.