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Board approves $270 million budget
Property tax bills likely to increase with millage rate
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Forsyth County News
Through spending cuts and a potential millage rate increase, the Board of Education has eliminated most of the deficit from the $270 million 2008-2009 school budget.
To offset the $9.8 million deficit without cutting school programs such as art and foreign language, the board approved the budget at its Thursday meeting based on a 1 mill increase.
One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in a homeowner's property value. The millage rate is part of a formula used to calculate property taxes.
Tentatively, the millage rate for school taxes is set to increase from 14.395 to 15.395.
"If you went up one mill," Dan Jones, the district's chief finance officer, told board members, "it's (an extra) $65 in a year for a $300,000 house."
Jones estimates the average home value in Forsyth County to be about $300,000.
The system's fiscal year 2009 budget still has a $1 million shortfall that the school system can cover by pulling from reserve funds.
Jones attributes the deficit to several factors: A national economic downturn, smaller growth in the tax digest, fuel costs and a 2.5 percent raise for school staff.
"Nobody planned for the economy to do what it's doing," said Jones.
Earlier in the budgeting process, the board helped close the budget gap through requiring department heads to narrow their expenditures and increasing class sizes by one student in the elementary schools.
About 72 percent of the budget pays for instruction costs, while about 9 percent goes toward maintenance and about 4 percent goes toward transportation. The remaining 15 percent is distributed among a variety of system expenses.
"We are still lower (in the millage rate) than we were three years ago," said board member Mike Dudgeon. "The board has tried to give money back to the people when they could."
Dudgeon added that the district's cost per student, which was $7,719 last year, has remained steady despite the economy.
Board member Ann Crow expressed concern about next year's funding options -- in part because five new schools are scheduled to open in 2009: Whitlow, Brookwood and Haw Creek elementary schools, Lakeside Middle and Lambert High School.
Costs for opening a new school from the ground-up -- staffing, food services, installing technology, filling a media center -- are high.
"With five of them, you're probably looking at $10 million just in up front costs," said Jones. "So there will be a significant increase in expenditures."
Jones said the budget will be advertised for a week before it goes up for final approval. There will also have to be several public hearings before the millage rate can be officially increased.
The first of these millage rate hearings will be at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. July 9. The third hearing will be at 5 p.m. July 17, just before the regular monthly meeting.
All hearings and meetings are open to the public and are scheduled to be held at the Board of Education building, off Dahlonega Highway.