Board OKs tax increase

CONYERS -- The Rockdale County Board of Education approved a budget that includes a 2-mill tax increase and more than $10.2 million in budget cuts.

During the monthly meeting on Thursday, the school board approved the adoption of the budget for the 2010-11 school year.

School board members Jeff Dugan and Darlene Hotchkiss were absent and Don McKinney opposed the approval of the budget, saying on Monday that he didn't have enough knowledge about the budget to approve it.

"Learning about how all of that Board of Education stuff works and all takes a long time," said McKinney, who began on the school board in January 2009. "I'm the type of person who likes to really know everything before I commit to raising the millage rate, and I didn't feel like I did."

As originally proposed by RCPS Superintendent Samuel King in May, the budget is $126,024,971, based on $63,072,617 in revenue from the state, $2,020,617 from the federal level and $60,931,737 in local funds, including the 2-mill increase.

The 2-mill increase will result in no furlough days for school staff. Other options presented to the board suggested a 1-mill increase for $58,431,737 in local revenue with five furlough days to save $2.5 million, or no increased millage rate to produce $55,931,737 in local funds with 10 furlough days for school staff to save $5 million.

The millage rate is 21 mills, as it has been since 2006. It has not been increased since 2003, when it went from 21.48 to 21.80; the next three years saw a decrease from 21.48 to 21.44 to 21, according to the tax digest history from the Rockdale County Tax Commissioner's Office.

Although the millage rate is expected to be increased, RCPS Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis said the school system overall will collect less local in taxes than it did this year. He said many Rockdale County residents also will pay less than they did this year, if the value of homes is decreased 10 percent or more, as projected.

The budget also includes $10,247,116 in budget cuts, which does not include a reduction in force, as any staff cuts are expected to occur through retirement and natural attrition.

Cuts include the elimination of a 4 percent contribution to the alternative retirement program to save about $3.6 million; a class size increase of about one student per class to save about $1.4 million; modifications to schools' points plans that provide teachers and paraprofessionals based on the transient rate and free and reduced lunch population to save $1.8 million; the continued reduction of 5 percent to non-salary budgets except for utilities to save about $400,000; the continued freezing of the computer replacement plan to save $1.2 million instead of replacing computers on a five-year cycle; the elimination of local funding for special education consultants to save more than $1 million; the elimination of director of a student services position that was recently vacated to save $112,000 in salary and benefits; the freezing of filling five bus driver positions for $100,000 and the reclassification of director of purchasing to manager and shortening the workday for a Business Services bookkeeper for $29,000, among other smaller reductions.

Although the school board accepted a budget option that includes an increased millage rate, it isn't expected to set the final millage rate until its July 22 meeting, as long as the tax office releases the final tax digest by that time. Davis said the millage rate increase could be less than the proposed 2 mills.