Rockdale County Schools Board of Education members reported on the state of the school system and fielded questions ranging from tax rates to septic tank systems at a recent South Rockdale Civic Association meeting.
Board Chairman Wales Barksdale, Jean Yontz and Katrina Young spoke before an audience of about 30 at the Sept. 16 meeting.
Barksdale indicated RCPS teachers may be facing seven more furlough days in the second half of the school year. The state board of education approved 10 furlough days in all, and before the start of the school year, Governor Sonny Perdue had issued a mandate for three furlough days for Georgia school system faculty before December 31, in an effort to shore up a $191 million budget shortfall. RCPS’s furlough days were scheduled in the preplanning period and on Oct.1 and Oct. 2.
School districts were also required to cut 5 percent of its budget, or an additional $3.1 million for Rockdale schools, which passed a $151 million budget earlier in the year. The RCPS dipped into its $15 million reserves to make up the difference, said Barksdale. He said although the school system would be able to weather this year, one possible projection showed another $9 million in cuts for next year.
"We’re going to have some tough decisions to make next year," said Barksdale, adding that the county funds about 120 positions more than the state allots.
One audience member asked who was verifying the economic status of the reported 58 percent of RCPS students receiving a free or reduced lunch. "I don’t believe this county is impoverished enough where over half the students eat free or reduced lunch," he said.
Barksdale said the free and reduced lunch program is a federally funded program with federal guidelines and that applicants are required to bring multiple proofs of income along with other qualifications.
"Just because you live in a nice neighborhood doesn’t dictate what your income is," said Yontz. She pointed out the rise in rates of FRL students came after the process was centralized at the registration office, making it easier for parents to apply for the FRL program for all their children at once instead of at each individual school.
One county resident objected to paying an increased amount of taxes — the Homestead Tax Relief Grant had exempted a portion of the property tax for schools until the state legislature put that grant on hold — to fund "innovative ideas" with taxpayer dollars. "I’m paying unfairly to educate children in this county that I don’t even have in school," he said.
"The worst thing we can have is an uneducated child," said Barksdale, in response. "This community, approximately 40 or 50 years ago, made a commitment to education that we were going to have a higher millage rate than the state because we wanted to educate our citizens."
Audience member Herb Parker questioned the septic tank system set up at Lorraine Elementary School, which he said was designed to handle 700 people, but that the school already had 760 students alone, not including faculty. He described how he had come to the board several year ago with his concerns about the system backing up and exposing students to raw sewage and never heard back.
The board members said they would look into the situation and get back to him.
The next meeting is on Oct. 20 at Union UMC with a representative from the Board of Assessor’s office.