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BOE pushes to re-adopt millage rate
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The Newton County Board of Education held the first of three public hearings Tuesday discussing its reasons for wanting to re-adopt the county's current millage rate of 19.21 to help pay for the maintenance and operations of the system's schools.


Superintendent Steve Whatley said the board will not increase millage rates because the Board of Assessors' increased the county's tax digest, and explained that money collected through ad valorem property taxes was essential to the system's tentative $139 million budget adopted May 15.


"We anticipate that our growth next year will be a 6 percent increase in student enrollment," Whatley said.


From the 2005-2006 school year to the 2006-2007 school year, enrollment grew by more than 1,000 students. From the 2004-2005 school year to the 2005-2006 school year, the county saw an increase of more than 1,400 students.


System administrators expect to enroll an additional 1,000 students during the 2007-2008 school year, which would boost total enrollment to more than 19,000 students. The system has hired 50 more teachers to manage such rapid growth.


Although the board is not increasing millage rates, the 2000 Taxpayer Bill of Rights mandates it must hold three public hearings if it is not rolled back the same percentage as increases in reassessment of property.


The required rollback rate for maintenance and operations would be 17.634, which is a bit more than half a mill decrease. This rate would result in the loss of $1.6 million in revenue for the system.


Whatley said the system can not afford to lose $1.6 million with anticipated growth in student enrollment, school construction, a state-mandated 3 percent increase in the salary schedule and 99 percent of the general fund budget going to instruction, pupil services, instructional staff support and media services.


"With these increases in cost and the fact that the state has cut our allocation by $1.4 million - these funds are greatly needed," Whatley said.


At the hearings, community residents can speak for five minutes expressing their concerns.


Tim Chupp, father of Newton High's 2007 salutatorian Hanna Chupp, explained his concerns.


"To me, band has been a very positive influence in my daughter's lives," Chupp said.


He said band students have to pay for their own sheet music and equipment, which can be very expensive. Funding requests from directors went unanswered, according to Chupp.


"You furnish books for math students," Chupp said. "You need to furnish what music students need, too."


He said he appreciated the board's decision to not increase the millage rate, but said they should include more support of music and the performing arts in the budget.


"It is a no-frills budget," Whatley said. "We've cut out over $5 million worth of askings from school principals, staff members and system administrators."


The other two hearings are scheduled for 9 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. June 19 at the Board of Education building.


In other news from Tuesday night's board meeting:

  • Several Newton High School students have received various honors. Daniel Hyatt, Bryan Brown, Corey Buhler, and Jake Weaver received their State FFA degrees at the organization's state convention. Newton High's chapter has also received gold emblem status, which puts the club in the top 10 in the state.

The last time Newton's chapter achieved this status was in 1988. Two Newton High students also received first place trophies at the Related Vocational Instructional State Leadership Conference held at Jekyll Island. Jerenate Thomas placed first in the job interview category and DeOndra Robinson placed first in the public speaking category.

  • Thomas Built Buses has delayed the delivery of 19 buses the system ordered, citing "new federally mandated emission requirements" as the cause of the 60-day delay. Associate Superintendent for Business and Administration Deborah Robertson requested the board approve repairs and maintenance of seven older buses to be used until the new ones arrive.

It will cost approximately $50,000 to repair the buses, but they system will be compensated by Thomas Built. The contract with the system states that for every day after July 1 the buses are not delivered, they will pay $100 per bus per day. With 19 buses ordered, that is $1,900 a day and $114,000 for the full 60 days.

  • State auditor Willie Moody commended NCSS business manager Peggy Bullard and her staff for an excellent job managing finances and public dollars. He stated in an exit conference that he would rank the system's audit within the top 5 percent in the state.
  • The Maintenance and Operations Department has started several projects that will be completed by the start of the 2007-2008 school year, including: installation and setup of 15 new trailers, installation of air conditioning units in all school gymnasiums, repairing bleachers in the middle and high schools, top dressing athletic fields, demolition of houses on Williams Street, various roofing projects and parking lot expansion at Palmer-Stone and Fairview Elementaries.
  • Approximately 371 third- and fifth-grade students are attending summer remediation in reading and math. These students will re-take the CRCT June 26-28. Math camp for students in first, second and fourth grade is also under way. Sixty-five students are attending session one and 72 have signed up for session two, which begins on June 18.