Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Oconee School Board Adopts $117 Million Tentative Budget For Fiscal Year 2025, Schedules Two Public Hearings On Budget

***Budget Show $1.7 Million In Revenue Over Expenses***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday adopted its tentative Fiscal Year 2025 budget unanimously and without discussion.

The budget is based on $114.9 million in spending, up $8.9 million from the current fiscal year.

It also includes $116.6 in projected revenue, up from $106.1 million in the current budget.

The state is expected to provide $5.4 million of that $10.4 million in new revenue, with the remaining $5.0 million coming from local sources, almost all of it from property and ad valorem taxes.

The budget puts the estimated $1.7 million in revenue over expenses into savings in the Fund Balance.

Three citizens spoke during the Public Communications section of the meeting on Monday, two of them candidates for the School Board in the May 21 Republican Primary, and the third the husband of one of those candidates.

The Board also received its standard financial reports, with the report on Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST) revenue showing an increase from the same month a year ago of 2.2 percent.

Budget Action

Katie Childers, Director of Finance for Oconee County Schools, had presented the tentative Fiscal Year 2025 General Fund Budget as well as the tentative Fiscal Year 2025 Federal Budget to the Board of Education at its work session on May 6.

Ryan Hammock, Amy Parrish, Branch, Argo, Burgess (L-R)
Childers (At Podium) 5/13/2024

The General Fund Budget is based on retaining the current millage rate of 15.0. Revenue from property and ad valorem taxes is projected to increase by $5.0 million because of projected growth in the tax digest.

The General Fund Budget includes five areas of new spending: salary improvements, health insurance, Teacher Retirement System increases, new personnel, and curriculum adoption.

At the meeting on Monday, Childers presented the General Fund and Federal tentative budgets at the end of her financial reports to the Board and said the budgets were action items for the Board to take up at the end of the meeting.

The Federal Fund Budget is a pass-through budget of $7.4 million in federal funds that flow through the Georgia Department of Education.

Childers also announced that the two hearings the Board will hold on the budgets are scheduled for 4 p.m. on May 22 and June 3 at the Board Meeting Room, 34 School Street in Watkinsville.

The Board is scheduled to adopt the final budget and tentative millage rate on June 10 and final millage rate on Aug. 5.

Board Response

Tim Burgess was the only Board Member to speak when Childers has ended her presentations.

“Just a comment Katie,” he said. “I want to say thank you for the work you did to put together the session we had in last month in April on the budget expenditure side.”

“First time we've gone through that level of detail in a number of years,” Burgess said, “and I thought it was very helpful and very informative and going through a fairly highly detailed level of expenditures on $100 million of our base budget.”

“So I appreciate you putting all the work and effort,” he said. “Now I think you were very instructive."

“Second, I think you built and presented a very sound budget for us to consider,” he continued.

“It hits a lot of the issues that obviously are both necessary for us to operate as a school system plus several that we believe we think we probably need to seriously consider to enhance our operations and address the challenges of next year and the year after,” he said.

“And last,” Burgess said, “thank you for putting tentative on the budget. I want to remind myself at least that this is still a tentative budget and we've still got several weeks to go before we finalize this process.”

No other Board member commented on the budgets or any other aspect of Childers’ reports.

Standard Financial Reports

Before presenting the budgets, Childers, who is standing in for incoming Chief Financial Officer Peter Adams, told the Board that collections from ELOST in March were up 2.2 percent from March of 2023.

She also reported that collections over the last 14 months are running 9.0 percent over that same month a year earlier, but collections over the last five months have been running only an average of 2.5 percent over that same month a year earlier.

Over the last 12 months, the Consumer Prince Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U), an index of inflation, increased 3.4 percent before seasonal adjustment.

Childers updated the current ELOST VI report, showing that total collections since the tax went into effect in January of 2023 now stand at $15.0 million and that total payments to date against the $46.7 million in bond sales to finance school construction projects is $3.1 million.

Another bond payment of $837,625 is due this calendar year, and the current ELOST VI funding available as of April 30, was $826,669.

The Tentative Fiscal Year 2025 Budget commits $14.8 million of the estimated Fund Balance of $40.0 million as of June 30 of this year for debt repayment, since ELOST is not projected to produce enough revenue to pay off the bonds.

Childers reported on Monday that the Cash Balance in the General Fund as of April 30, was $60.4 million, down from $63.4 million on March 31.

Public Communications

The first person who signed up to speak to the Board in the designated Public Communication section of Monday’s meeting was Joyce Reifsteck, who is running for the Post 1 Chair position on the School Board in the May 21 Republican Primary.

Argo, Burgess, Joyce Reifsteck 5/13/2024

Post 5 Board Member Michael Ransom also is seeking the Republican Party nomination for the chair position. Incumbent Chair Kim Argo will step down at the end of the year.

Joyce Reifsteck said she is concerned about the salaries paid to teachers and paraprofessionals

“It seems that the people who are spending most time with our children would be the most valued,” she said, “but when we consider the people who spend the day with our county children, there's a shocking level of unevenness across the salaries of Oconee School system employees.”

“The work of teachers and paraprofessionals is the most crucial,” she said, “yet they are among our school system’s lowest paid employees.”

“There's a huge disparity between the pay of administrators and teachers in Oconee County,” she said, “but there's an even bigger drop to the level of paraprofessional pay.”

Second Speaker

Dr. Fred Reifsteck followed his wife to the podium, and said he has attended state universities and his father was a teacher, principal, and superintendent of a state school district.

Branch, Argo, Burgess, Fred Reifsteck 5/13/2024

“So I've seen firsthand how state schools operate,” he said, “and I've seen firsthand how public schools are supposed to conduct business.”

“Last month, after my wife, Joyce, spoke during the public comments portion of the School Board meeting,” Fred Reifsteck continued, “a School Board member responded.”

The reference was to Ransom, who responded to Joyce Reifsteck’s call for an explanation for when and how the Board made the decision to seek legislation that will strip her or Ransom of the position of Chair of the Board after the November election if voters approve a referendum scheduled to be placed on the ballot.

Fred Reifsteck said that his wife and Ransom were “admonished by another School Board member who said this is not the time or the place for this debate.” Board Member Amy Parrish did bring the discussing between Joyce Reifsteck and Ransom to a halt with that comment.

“So the question is,” Fred Reifsteck said, “when is the time and the place for public discussion and debate? “

“According to Georgia law,” Fred Reifsteck continued, “the business of the School Board is to be conducted in public.”

“So if it not done in public during the first meeting of the month, and it's not done in public during the second meeting of the month,” he said, “one has to wonder when the public discussion and debate happen, and one has to wonder when all the business is being conducted because it doesn't appear to be done in public.”

Third Speaker, Second Candidate

Stephen Aleshire was the third speaker on Monday. He is seeking the Republican Party nomination for Post 5 on the Board of Education. Brock Toole also is seeking that Republican Party nomination. Katie Green is running unopposed on the Democratic ballot for the Post 5 nomination.

Argo, Burgess, Aleshire 5/13/2024

Aleshire told the Board I'm a medical doctor. I have an active license in Georgia. I've lived here for 27 years.”

“At the last work session (on May 6), the Department of Public Health Mobile Clinic was discussed,” Aleshire said.

At that meeting, Suzanne Korngold, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services, reported on the first year of a collaboration with the Georgia Department of Public Health to provide immunization mobile clinics at each of the county’s two high schools twice a year.

“It was not stated what these vaccinations were specifically,” Aleshire said. “I view this as a very slippery slope. In other parts of the country, similar clinics offer COVID boosters, HPV series, subcutaneous birth control implantation, and even mobile testing for HIV and other communicable diseases.”

“I'm a pathologist, so I know something about these things,” he said.

“I feel that the mobile DPH van is an example of the camel's nose under the tent,” Aleshire said. “If children need health care, including vaccines, they should go to an established location, where full consultation in conjunction with the parents can be done.”

“The parents need to be involved rather than just climbing on a van as if you're getting onto a clown show and not being sure what's going to come out,” Aleshire said.

Burgess Response

No one responded immediately to any of the three citizens who spoke, but shortly after the Public Communications, Argo asked Superintendent Jason Branch to present to the Board items for its action, including the request for approval of the two budgets.

General Fund Budget Approval 5/13/2024
Hammock, Parrish, Branch, Argo, Burgess, Ransom (L-R)

“One question, Madam chair,” Burgess interrupted. “We're about to take up a whole number of items that have been discussed previously in the past Board meeting. Correct?”

“Correct,” Argo responded.

“And we're about to take a public vote on each of those, including the budget that's been discussed at the previous Board meeting and at a budget workshop last month. Correct?” Burgess continued.

“That is correct,” Argo responded.

“These are all public, formal actions that we're about to proceed, consider, and take?” Burgess asked.

“Yes,” Argo responded.

"Okay,” Burgess said. “Just wanted to make sure I understood the nature of what we're about to do.”

The Board approved both of the tentative budgets unanimously and without further discussion.”


Oconee County Schools released the video of the May 13 meeting at 8 a.m. on May 14, following the normal pattern for release of videos.

Oconee County Schools had held the video of the May 6 meeting, when the Fiscal Year 2025 budgets were first released, until late in the day on May 7.

The video below of the May 13 meeting is on the Oconee County Schools YouTube Channel.

Childers began her financial reports to the Board at 16:57 in the video.

Burgess offered his comment on the budget at 19:07.

Public Communications begins at 22:10 in the video.

I also attended the final part of the meeting and recorded my own video from the rear of the room.

The still images used above are from my video.

No comments: