Also Thursday, Forsyth County’s school board:
• Selected low bidder Republic Services for waste removal services. The company’s bid of $222,785 per year beat out four others. The vote was 4-1 with Kristin Morrissey opposed. She noted consideration should be given to companies that may give back more to the community.
• Approved updated codes of conduct for elementary, middle and high school students. Not much has changed, said Bruce Wagar, director of school safety and discipline. "Our code of conduct is beginning to withstand the test of time," he told the board. The few changes include allowing students to use electronic devices, like iPods and cell phones, on school buses.
• Heard from Ruth Allison on her request to have a book removed from the library at Coal Mountain Elementary School. Allison described the committee process she went through to have "Julie of the Wolves" removed. She said her request was not treated fairly, given an unusual voting circumstance with an uncounted ballot. Per its policy, the board will respond to Allison in writing.
-- Jennifer Sami
The Forsyth County Board of Education on Thursday approved the final budget for the coming year, though it must still set the tax rates.
The $263 million plan recently became more difficult to balance when the county’s tax digest came in lower than expected.
Instead of an $8.7 million shortfall, the school system is facing about an $11.4 million deficit.
To make up the difference, the district is using the remainder of a $6.5 million federal education grant. The other $4.9 million will come from reserves, leaving the system with an estimated fund balance, or reserves, of $37.4 million.
"We have to have confidence in the budget, and the fact that we have gone through it and we feel we have cut where we can cut and have done everything we could possibly do," said Nancy Roche, board member. "What we’re passing tonight is a good budget."
Though the budget has been approved, the board still has another option without pulling $4.9 million from the district’s reserves, which total about $40 million.
It could raise the maintenance and operations millage rate, which has remained at 15.395 mills for the past three years.
A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.
Each mill brings in nearly $8 million in revenue, officials have said.
The board did not discuss millage rates Thursday because the final tax digest they received requires more revision.
The previous change in the digest resulted in about $3 million less for the school system. The final alteration will also result in a cut, though likely a much smaller one.
Mary Kirkpatrick, chief tax appraiser, said the previous digest was accidentally calculated with an additional exemption of inventory taxes.
The difference, she said, is "a drop in the bucket."
"It’s one of the issues we’ve got to get cleaned up, but it really doesn’t affect the whole picture a heck of a lot," she said.
The error, made by the assessor’s office vendor, will result in the school system losing another $31,000 from the projected $119 million maintenance and operations revenue.
Kirkpatrick delivered the final changes at the end of the day Friday. From there, finance director Dan Jones will calculate the system’s options, said board chairman Tom Cleveland.
"Once Dan calculates and gives them to us, we’ll consider that, and I think we’ve set up some dates at the end of June and through July to review those and act on those," Cleveland said. "We’ll be working through that process and we hope to publish more as we know more."
The board must set millage rates by Aug. 1.
Its next meeting isn’t until July 21, so a special called meeting will be held to review the millage rates, which include the level for maintenance and operations, as well as for bonds, which is at 1.418 mills.
The bond rate could also increase, as the system struggles to fill a $6.5 million shortfall in paying down voter-approved bonds from 1992, ‘95 and ‘98, on which the school system owes more than $86 million.
Because the system can’t ask for more sales tax money to cover bond debt, its options are few and include raising property taxes or pulling from reserves.
But pulling from reserves can be dangerous, said board member Ann Crow.
"That amount of money is what we use for our cash flow until tax dollars start coming in in November," she said. "Last year in October, we were down to $8 million, so we just can’t dip into that fund at will.
Depleting reserves could also affect the system’s bond rating, Crow said.
Following the meeting, Jones said the board would likely have a called meeting later in the month to discuss millage rate options.