For the fourth year in a row, Forsyth County school taxes are expected to remain the same and Forsyth County Schools employees are likely to receive a step increase, according to the initial 2018 budget that was presented to the Board of Education Tuesday.
In addition to the step increase, the $404.9 million spending plan includes a 2 percent pay increase for all employees, the third year in a row salaries would be increased if approved in June before the fiscal year begins on July 1.
As has been consistent in years past, 88.9 percent of the total expenditures projected for next year will be spent on salaries and benefits, with 72.96 percent being funneled toward teachers.
“We invest most of our resources, as well we should, in the classroom,” Superintendent Jeff Bearden said.
The current year’s budget gave a 3 percent pay raise and a 2.5 percent step increase. In 2016, a 2 percent pay raise and step increases were approved. The 2015 budget saw step increases and the removal of three remaining furlough days. In 2014, salaries were increased by 2 percent, with a 1 percent raise in 2013.
Rick Gunn, chief financial officer for the district, said the decision to give increase pay to all employees was made even though Gov. Nathan Deal only mandated the raise for teachers.
As proposed, the millage rate will remain at 17.3, a level it plateaued at after being raised one mill in 2015.
A millage rate is the formula used to calculate property taxes, with one mill amounting to $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, which is 40 percent of the actual market price.
To accommodate a 3.2 percent increase in full-time students for the 2017-18 school year — a 49.7 percent increase since 2009 — the budget includes 166.5 new positions, including 102 teachers, three principals, two assistant principals and 20 bus drivers.
Total funding for new positions — less than this year’s 225 additional jobs created — will cost $12.6 million.
State health care costs continue to increase, Gunn said, this year by $100 a month for non-certified staff bringing costs to $945 a month per person — the same level at which certified staff has been.
The district is now paying 481 percent more for employee health insurance than it was in 2010.
Increased health care costs has hit the food services department the hardest, he said.
“We know some time during the year we’re going to have to start helping [School Nutrition Program Director Valerie Bowers] out,” Gunn said.
Most of the department’s revenues come from lunch sales, which are steadily becoming more expensive to provide.
“Federal mandates have crippled food services throughout the nation,” Bearden said.
Even with projected growth and increased spending, Gunn said the district is expected to bring in $834,412 more than it pays out.
As estimated, $197.1 million is projected to come in from local sources with an additional $208.7 million in state revenues.
Starting with an estimated fund balance of $57.7 million, the school system should end the 2018 budget with $58.6 million, 14.47 percent of the fund balance to expenditures.
Gunn said that percentage reaching 15 helps with bond ratings and makes funding capital projects cheaper. The district is in the process of putting a new bond referendum to voters in May.
Though the tax digest is not yet set, Gunn said the most recent projection is that it will grow up 8.3 percent, with the school system collecting an estimated $176.7 million in taxes after exemptions and the 2.5 percent commission taken by the county.
The district is predicting it will lose just more than $4 million due to austerity reductions next year — money lost when school systems do not receive the full funding it is supposed to from state QBE earnings, which is based on student enrollment.
Since austerity reductions began in 2003, the state has failed to give $164.3 million to Forsyth County Schools.
If the board approves the initial budget at its May 16 regular monthly meeting, it will be advertised, available online and open to public comment at a public hearing before being adopted this summer.