At a regular meeting of the Forsyth County Board of Education, the 2019 school district budget was tentatively approved by all members, and when it is officially approved in June will add hundreds of new positions to the district.
According to Rick Gunn, chief financial officer for the Forsyth County School System, the initial 2019 school budget is for a grand total of $443,786,739 – all the costs they expect the system to incur over the year, including 233 new positions and a 24.33 percent increase to teacher retirement rates.
Gunn said that the 2019 budget is $38 million higher than last year's budget, and the majority of that increase has been budgeted for the new positions within the county, including 56 positions at the county’s two new schools, Denmark High School and Alliance Academy for Innovation.
"Basically the reason our budget is going up is because we are still growing, basically adding a school every year, student growth wise, and you have to have new teachers to do that," said Rick Gunn, CFO for Forsyth County Schools.
He added that this budget also reflects an increase in school safety spending for new councelors, school advocacy specialists and $1.3 million to pay for an increase in county school resource officers.
When addressing the Board of Education in early May, Gunn made a point to stress the fact that majority of the 2019 budget, $324,036,911, has been budgeted for instruction, including salaries, benefits and operating expenses.
The budget also tentatively includes a 1 percent cost of living adjustment for county employees, but Gunn said that increase and other factors of the budget will be officially determined after the tax digest gives them a better picture on what revenues they can expect to collect in the next year.
"We do an estimate based on a tax digest, as we get different versions of it,” Gunn said. “And we have done our estimates based on that, but we don’t know until we get the final one, what it's going look like."
Gunn said that the 2019 is tentatively set to not increase the millage rate, but a final decision on the millage will be decided in June when the budget is approved.
According to Jennifer Caracciolo, director of communications for Forsyth County Schools said that it is “significant” that they have not increased property taxes for the operations and maintenance millage rate in five years, that rate staying at 17.30 mills since it was upped from 16.30 in 2014. She said that the bond millage rate has not changed since 2011.
"And the reason it can stay the same is we are a growing county," Caracciolo said. "We don't have to increase property taxes because we can fund the needs of education off of the growth."
The millage rate is used in the formula to calculate property taxes. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, and assessed value is 40 percent of the actual market price. Anyone over the age of 65 does not pay property taxes in Forsyth County towards the school system.
Caracciolo said that another point of interest in the 2019 budget is the rapidly increasing teacher retirement system rate (TRS rate), that the system pays towards the pensions of its retired teachers. Since 2010 the TRS rate has increased by 114.6 percent, under the 2019 budget it will increase 24.33 percent from the 2018 rate.
"TRS rates are something people don't ever think of, we are the largest employer in the county and we are responsible for the retirement of our employees," she said.
Gunn said that Forsyth County Schools has no control over this increasing rate, and the TRS a statewide organization that bases its rate off of projected future payouts."It's costing us 9.8 million for just the employees we currently have," Gunn said. "So of course it costs more for a teacher today, and it's going to cost more for that same teacher next year. And the system gets no more benefit for it."