“The state of Georgia has had over 40 months of positive economic growth,” Harper said. “However, the revenue to support public education in Bartow continues to be reduced in the form of increased amended formula adjustments, decreased equalization, reduction in local ad valorem revenues, declining student enrollment and state reductions in several program areas.”
Harper said raising the millage rate was the only option left to help the school system meet its obligations and maintain a statutory fund balance of 10 percent. Without the millage increase, Harper said the school system’s fund balance would dwindle to less than $4 million.
“That’s unacceptable for any school system,” Harper said. “If we have an emergency, we’re in trouble.” Harper said a suggestion that special purpose local option sales tax funding be used to help assuage the schools system’s mounting financial strain is not feasible or legal.
According to the SPLOST IV referendum, the $70 million collected may only be used for “acquiring, constructing and equipping two new elementary schools and one middle school, acquiring land for future schools, instructional and administrative technology improvements (including necessary software), and school buses, adding to, renovating, repairing, improving and equipping existing school buildings and other buildings and facilities useful or desirable in connection there with, and acquiring any necessary property therefor, both real and personal for the Bartow District.”
Harper said that of the 180 school systems across the state, 133 have been forced to raise millage rates.
“No school system, I assure you, wants to raise the millage,” Harper said. “Our staff has had to bear the burden of the revenue reductions by doing more with less, taking on additional duties and responsibilities, salary reductions, furlough days and significant layoffs. The staff’s continued efforts to provide the very best for our students makes me very proud of each and every one of them.”
The board approved the millage hike, which is anticipated to generate between $2 million to $3 million, by a vote of 3-2.
Fred Kittle voted against the increase and said not enough information had been presented to the board to make raising the millage rate the best option.
Matt Schultz said he did not support the millage rate hike because he believed the school board was not presented with alternatives to raising the millage rate, which he deemed “irresponsible” and did not “make sense.”
Anna Sullivan, who voted for the increase along with board chair Davis Nelson and John Howard, said the school system has worked “very hard” to trim its budget without raising taxes, but there are no other options at this point.
“I don’t think there’s anything irresponsible here,” Sullivan said. “I think that we are asking our children and our teachers to do more with less [and] those two things don’t make sense to me.”