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RCPS: Proposed budget at $127M for next school year
6 days cut, board to look at equivalent milage rate increase
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The Rockdale County school board will vote whether to tentatively adopt a proposed budget of $127 million for the 2011-2012 school year at its May 19 meeting. The final budget adoption will be in June.

Rockdale County Public School initially faced an anticipated budget shortfall of about $14.9 million, due to lower local tax digest and lower revenues from the state.

About $3.3 million would be saved by cutting six staff days from the school year calendar.

Other cuts come from delaying technology and textook purchases, a reduction of about 7.5 teacher positions mostly at the high school level, elimination of elementary and middle school summer programs in 2012, and continuing to suspend alternative retirement contributions for a second year.

About $3 million in federal EduJobs funds that were recieved last year and saved will be applied to the FY2012 budget to help close the gap.

However, the six-day cut for some teachers would be buffered by an increase in salary step amounts.

Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis explained the state had increased the step amounts last year but had not provided the funds to give the step increases.

Next year, RCPS would be providing some of that increase at the same time as it would cut about a half-day's worth of pay each month because of the reduced calendar.

Milage Rates

School board members also discussed what milage rate increase it would take to not have to cut six days from the school year. A milage rate increase had not been brought to the school board.

Board member Brad Smith said "There’s another option we hadn’t looked at yet – millage rate. I know we did that last year. If we’re in the same situation as we were last year where we increased our millage rate – and I paid less taxes last year – I asked Lee what we might be able to do to put the calendar back where it needs to be and pay our teachers what they’re supposed to be paid. We ask them to do more with less, more with less, more with less; oh and by the way, we’re going to give you less pay too to do more with less. That’s wrong.

"If it costs us a couple of cups of coffee a month to make sure a teacher can get $137 a month back in their pay, I can afford a couple of cups of coffee," said Smith.

 Davis said an increase of 1.5 mils would bring about the same amount as would be saved by cutting six days.

For a $100,000 house at the same value as last year, that would mean an increase of about $38. If the house value was reduced by 5 percent, the tax payer would pay the same or less in taxes as last year, said Davis.

Last year, the school board raised the millage rate by 1.99 mils, from 21 mils to 22.99 mils. 

Superintendent Dr. Sam King said the staff had discussed milage rates but had not presented it as an option because the school system had raised the rate last year and did not want to come to voters for another rate increase.

Davis also pointed out even with the 1.99 milage rate increase last year, the school system collected $500,000 less than the previous year.

The school milage rate reached its all time high of 25.63 in 1996. From 1996 to 2010, the rate went down or stayed the same.

Board member Darlene Hotchkiss said, "We fought a long time to get the milage rate down and reduce the bond indebtedness. Even though the money out of someone’s pocket will be less, that’s now in this economy. Next year or the year after, that’s not what that increase in milage rate is going to be."

The finance committee discussed keeping the amount of taxes flat and rolling the milage rate down, when the economy picked up, so the taxpayer would see the same amount.

Hotchkiss responded, "Everyone sitting at this table I believe will set to that commitment. But we all know we don’t make any commitment more than 12 months, and this table of people can very easily change."

The committee asked Davis to draw up options with and without a milage rate increase to present at the next finance committee meeting on May 19, 5 p.m. and the BOE's May 19 meeting at 7 p.m.