Local school tax rate could drop thanks to increased state funding

The Grady County Board of Education got its first look at the proposed 2018-2019 operating budget Tuesday night. The total budget stands at $37,283,704.
Increased state funding is growing the school system’s budget by $2,081,428 compared to the current budget. State funding for Quality Basic Education is increasing $1.2 million; austerity cuts of $472,425 have been restored; and the system is set to receive an additional $330,430 in equalization from the state.
With the additional resources, Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard is recommending the funding for three new art teachers, an additional agriculture teacher, an additional academic teacher, as well as a half-time physical education teacher.
The superintendent said he is also looking to beef up school security with additional School Resource Officers.
“I thank Mayor (George) Trulock and Chief (Tony) Black for considering a partnership with the system on an SRO for Whigham School. They are seeing if it will fit into their budget. When the officer is not working at the school he/she would be available for patrol duty or duty’s assigned by Chief Black,” Dr. Gilliard said.
The superintendent said he is hopeful he can work with Grady County Sheriff Harry Young to implement the CHAMPS program here which would result in an SRO stationed at Shiver. Dr. Gilliard is also looking at funding opportunities to have two officers in Cairo that could serve not only the high school, but also all of the in-town schools.
“I’m excited about the opportunities we are going to be able to offer our students with this budget,” Dr. Gilliard said.
With the addition of an agriculture teacher, ag classes will not only be available at Whigham, Shiver and Cairo High School, but also Washington Middle School.
Finance Officer Dan Broome noted that 88-90 percent of the total budget is for payroll. The system’s cost for health insurance for certified and noncertified personnel will be $945 per person per month in the next fiscal year and the system’s contribution to teacher retirement is increasing from 16.81 percent to 20.90 percent.
The budget does not include any increases to the salary schedules for bus drivers, school nurses, school food service personnel or other staff.
However, Tuesday night Board member Teresa Gee Harris requested the superintendent and finance officer review salaries paid to long-term substitute teachers.
“Daily substitutes are basically a baby-sitter. They get to go home at the end of the day. Long-term substitutes have more responsibility. They are basically doing the work of an actual teacher,” Board member Harris said. “Until you have experienced it you just don’t know,” she added.
Dr. Gilliard agreed to inquire with the principals if long-term subs are required to attend staff meetings, meet with parents and other teacher duties.
“We want the best and you get what you pay for,” Harris said.
Board Chairman John White also questioned the superintendent on the situation with hiring and retaining bus drivers. Gilliard said it remains a challenge and that in the past people were interested in the work in order to get the health insurance, but he noted that is no longer the case.
He also shared some different options that could be employed to address a shortage, but most are inconvenient. According to the superintendent, it is the spring time when there are so many sporting events and field trips to cover that causes issues for the school system.
Broome told board members Tuesday night he is hopeful the current millage rate can be maintained or possibly lowered once the county’s tax digest is released.
Dr. Gilliard complimented Broome for his work on the budget. “I believe he has developed a budget that may allow us to lower the millage rate this year. We need to see what the growth in the digest is before we can make that decision, but at a minimum we could hold the current tax rate,” the superintendent said.

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