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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Spring is Here!

Posted by Robert Costley in General  |  Post a comment

Finally! I was minding my happy business the other day talking to another Butts County citizen in his front yard, and I looked down at my dusty feet and saw…a daffodil.

I was so happy that I almost cried (from pollen). Looking at this beautiful yellow sign of spring, all the memories of the constant rain and cold weather we have shivered through this fall and winter as a community grew large like a big soap bubble…And then, just as quickly, the bubble popped to make way for a vision of birds singing and long days of sunshine.

As you can probably deduce, we have seasons in school life too. In the late summer and fall, we enjoy new school clothes, high school football, and beginning a new year of growth. In the winter, the community sings Christmas carols while the children pray for snow days. And now as we enter the final quarter of the school year, we look toward a season of graduation and the commencement of life for a new generation of young leaders to take our place one day.

While these big cultural rituals are what we often remember, it is the smaller events or weather fronts we experience that often define a season.

For instance, it is “budget season” in Butts County School System. It comes around in December as we begin our forecasting of revenues and expenditures. Then the state government goes to work in January to determine how much money they will give our county to educate our kids. And finally, once the Governor signs off on real figures in March or April, our staff and Board of Education are left to determine how much the local community has to pay to make up the difference through property taxes. (Georgia funds only about 62% of our budget needs in Butts County)

To that point, there is much encouraging news. Our new governor has decided that our teachers will finally receive a very significant salary raise and is currently proposing one of the largest raises in history for Georgia educators in the next two years, most of which the state is willing to fund. Watching our classroom teachers and staff go about 12 years without a raise and suffering through years of furlough days, the state raise is great news for our school system’s staff.

For Butts County educators, this will mean their third salary raise in four years. The state of Georgia fully funded two of those raises while the Board paid for one of them by passing on restored state austerity operations funding to the teachers two years ago instead of using the funds for other valid expenses.

The Board is also proud that we have been able to help provide some relief to property tax payers as well. In 2011, the school millage rate in Butts County was at the state maximum: 20 mills (this means $20 dollars per $1000 of assessed value of your property). At that time, the school system was levying over $12 million per year from local taxes in order to provide an education to our children.

Seven years later and despite the worst recession since the Great Depression, the BOE has dropped the tax rate to 17.221 mills, and we are currently collecting just over $10 million dollars per year. In fact, the school system has either lowered property taxes or the millage rate for seven consecutive years.

I have to say on their behalf that you, the voter and neighbor, have been a great help as well through your support of the E-SPLOST penny sales tax. While we cannot use this money for salaries or consumables, we do use those pennies instead of our property taxes to pay for computers, software, equipment, repairs, textbooks, buses, and renovation. And as you all know, a big chunk of those pennies comes from people who do not live in Butts County: truckers, travelers, and spenders who visit our great county and its resources.

The best part of E-SPLOST is that it has allowed our children to have better facilities and classrooms, better technology, and better instructional resources, and we will not owe a dime of debt to anyone in just three short years.

So how will the budget look for next year? Well, we are very optimistic that we are in the financial shape to weather several storms ahead for the next five years. Our Board of Education has made it very clear to me and our administrative staff that they are determined never again to make our teachers suffer another furlough day (caused originally by the significant loss of state funding a few years ago) and for our students not to miss dozens of school days ever again. And candidly, I think we are set up to meet their expectations.

I share this because we have received questions from several you of who read and heard about our initial budget work back in December, which is the month we kicked off the budget process. Some of our community were worried about huge deficits and worried that we were going back to the times of extreme austerity and financial panic. Far from it. In fact, we are adding more calendar days for students next year and more teachers and programs to serve them! Of course, we still have challenges, but we are not in desperate times.

Rather, we started the budget process this December with conservative and worst case scenarios based on very few real numbers, planning for all ugly contingencies…with an eye toward multiple years in the future so that we do not get taken by surprise and have to “zigzag” our tax rates and programs. Hopefully that is what our community expects of us, and hopefully the last seven years of growth in programs and reduction in property taxes is proof in the pudding of our budget approach. We have a long way to go, but, with your help, we have come a LONG way in the last several years.

Finally, there is more seasonal budget weather left to come and maybe even a few surprises, but the closer it gets, the easier it is to forecast. And if it presents a curve ball this spring or next, we have prepared an umbrella that should cover our taxpayers and students just fine in the next few years.

In the meantime, we will enjoy the daffodils!

 


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