Board Business Briefs: School Board Approves Legislative Priorities
The Cherokee County School Board at its Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023 meeting reviewed how anticipated state legislation will impact next year’s budget for school operations.
Each fall, the school board approves its Legislative Partnership Priorities, a report outlining its stand on issues likely to come up during the state legislature’s next session. This report is shared with Cherokee County’s state legislative delegation and is posted on CCSD’s website for the entire community to review.
Top concerns include funding shortfalls due to a potential expansion of taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools and the proposed expansion of the local school property tax break for seniors. If approved by the state legislature, the senior tax break expansion still would require countywide approval by voters; passage would mean a loss of an approximate $14 million in school funding for next school year, dependent upon details of the modifications.
The School Board, as it does every year, also is asking the state legislature to fully fund its share of school operational costs; to increase teacher salaries; and to increase funding for school bus transportation, school counselors and student safety and security. Other returning requests include more high school diploma choices and eliminating schools as election polling places.
SENIOR TAX BREAK EXPANSION
Cherokee County seniors have received a generous local school property tax break for 25 years. The exemption initially was approved by voters to offer lower income seniors tax relief prior to the establishment of the county’s 1% Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) for school construction and technology.
Currently, seniors 62 and older in Cherokee County can receive an exemption on paying school property taxes for the assessed value of their home for up to $485,500, meaning they only pay school property taxes on the assessed value in excess of that cap. The cap rises each year in accordance with the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, which would result in an exemption of more than $500,000 next year if there are no changes.
After hearing complaints earlier this year from seniors with more expensive homes, state legislators said they plan to put the issue on the ballot, as only Cherokee County voters can change or fully lift the cap. The referendum could be up for a vote as soon as May’s state primary election and, if a full lift of the cap is approved by voters, it would mean a loss of $14 million in school funding for next school year. For perspective, that amount would fund salaries and benefits for more than 150 teachers. The impact also would increase over time as the senior population rises. As a “bedroom community,” Cherokee’s tax digest has less commercial and industrial development than other metro counties to help bear the cost of schools and other infrastructure.
The anticipated $14 million revenue loss will be a significant challenge for next school year’s budget, especially coupled with the loss of $17.6 million in federal pandemic funding and rising employer costs for employee healthcare benefits. Last year, the school board lowered the millage rate by 1.5 mills – the largest reduction among metro school districts. This year, the school board held the millage rate steady in order to keep teacher and support staff pay as competitive as possible with other metro counties’ salary increases.
With the anticipated revenue losses for next school year, neither a millage rate decrease nor significant teachers raises are likely. As 88% of CCSD’s operating budget is spent on employee salaries and benefits, the proposed budget likely will have less funding for hiring new teachers and support staff to keep up with retirements and maintain low class size.
School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said it will be challenging to both offer full tax relief to seniors and keep budget cuts away from the classroom.
“Every voter in the county will get to decide what happens,” she said of the anticipated referendum.
These funding issues will be worsened should the state reduce its school funding in any way. While state officials have not announced any plans for austerity budget cuts, they do likely plan to again pursue further expanding taxpayer funded private school vouchers, which would negatively impact future public school funding.
The school board is not opposed to the concept of vouchers, as long as private schools that receive taxpayer funds meet the same academic, financial and transparency accountability standards as the state requires for public schools.
School board member Erin Ragsdale spoke up about the need for accountability. Private schools, she said, “should have to be held to the same requirements as public schools” in order to receive taxpayer funds.
The school board also:
• Thanked CCSD schools for presenting Veterans Day programs;
• Shared that the application window for Superintendent of Schools candidates has closed, and the process now is advancing to the application review phase;
• Recognized Creekview HS as a Breakout School Award Winner by the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals. Learn more here;
• Recognized CCSD’s Georgia High School Association State and Regional champions. Learn more here;
• Recognized CCSD’s VILLA Program Class of 2023-24 graduates. Learn more here;
• Approved the renewal of the partnership agreement with Waste Management of Metro Atlanta, Inc.;
• Approved monthly financial reports;
• Approved out of state staff travel;
• Approved out of state and overnight student field trips;
• Approved the monthly update on capital outlay projects; and,
• Approved the monthly personnel report.