State cuts forced higher school tax, superintendent says

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 17, 2004

Due to funding cuts from the state, a proposed budget for nextyear will ask Brookhaven School District residents to pay a littlemore to maintain its quality education services, saidSuperintendent Dr. Sam Bounds.

Bounds said the district will be asking for approximately$237,000 more in local property taxes next year as part of anoverall $22.3 million budget. Under state law, he said schooldistricts may ask for 4 percent more each year in localfunding.

In advertising a hearing on next year’s budget, which isexpected to be approved at next Tuesday’s school board meeting,officials projected a 1.9-mill increase in the tax levy from 45.31mills to 47.21 mills. However, Bounds said more recent propertyvalue totals may lessen that increase.

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“Based on our revenue numbers, it looks like it will be lessthan one mill,” Bounds said.

Lincoln County Tax Assessor-Collector Nancy Jordan said realproperty value rolls should be ready the first week of July.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a person’s assessedproperty value. A 1.9-mill increase would mean a $100,000 homeownerwould be paying about $19 more next year while a $200,000 homeownerwould be paying about $38 more.

Bounds said the school district asks for a dollar amount anddoes not set the millage rate. Aldermen will determine the millagerate necessary to meet the school funding request when the boardsets the city operating budget later this year.

Bounds pointed out that even with next year’s projected increaseto 47.21 mills, the tax levy for school operations will be lessthan the 47.57 mill levy in 1995. He acknowledged propertyreappraisals, new property and other factors that caused the amountof money generated by one mill to go up.

“We don’t keep asking for millage to keep adding on, we ask fordollars,” Bounds said.

Bounds attributed the need for a tax increase to the state notfully funding the adequate education program.

“If the state had fully funded us, we wouldn’t have asked for apenny,” Bounds said.

For full funding next year, Bounds said the district would haveneeded an additional $1.1 million. The district receivedapproximately only $678,000 more.

However, Bounds said the district had to cover pay raises forteachers and teacher assistants and increases in health insurancecosts. The net result was a deficit of over $704,000.

“It caused us to take some drastic measures, and we did,” Boundssaid of the state funding lapse.

Staff reductions affecting 12 teacher assistants, seventeachers, an assistant principal and two maintenance workersproduced a total savings of almost $711,000 Bounds said. He saidthe district could not continue operations with the $6,000 from thesavings, and thus the need for the local tax increase.

“We’re trying to maintain a quality education system with theleast amount as we can,” Bounds said.

Bounds said the district has a low student to teacher ratio anda high number of Carnegie Unit offerings. Carnegie Units arecourses that count toward graduation.

In the lower grades, Bounds said the district will be able tokeep a 15-1 ratio in kindergarten, 18-1 in first grade and 22-1 ingrades two, three and fourth. He said a low student-teacher ratiois vital to educational efforts.

“Research backs up that that really enhances student learning,”Bounds said.

At the secondary level, Bounds said the student-teacher ratioaverage will increase from around 16-1 to 18-1. He cautioned thatis an average as some classes, like an advanced placement course,will have a much lower ratio while a class like World History couldbe as much as 33-1.

“We will have some classes of 33 (students),” Bounds said. “Thestate allows that, and that is the max.”

Unlike lower grades, Bounds said there is no conclusive researchshowing that a low student-teacher ratio at the secondary levelsignificantly impacts learning. Nevertheless, Bounds said thedistrict wanted to maintain its educational offerings.

“We will not cut the quality of services that students need foreducation,” Bounds said. “Other than some increased class sizes,the students shouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

Bounds said neither he nor the school board wants to affectpeople by asking them to pay more in taxes.

“But if you let K-12 education go to pot, you affect your wholecommunity,” Bounds said. “K-12 is the foundation of anycommunity.”

Bounds said there is a direct correlation between education andcommunities that are economically successful.

“I believe the general consensus of this community is to providea good quality school system,” Bounds said. “That’s what we try todo.”