In a unanimous vote, the school board of the Putnam County Charter School System voted to approve its budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, one in which the millage rate increased by two mills.
Prior to the formal vote, there was a presentation held by Superintendent Eric Arena, talking about the changes in requirements from the state that required additional funding. Those requirements included raising $1.2 million for teacher salaries and benefits required by the state of Georgia. Changes also included $500,000 for school safety improvements to be used at the school board’s discretion.
“The state sets the rate and between state law and federal law these are required expenditures,” said Dr. Steve Weiner, chairman of the Board of Education. “We can say it’s wonderful, we can say it’s terrible, but there isn’t anything we can do about it.”
The millage rate in recent years was 14.269, and with the board’s approval, the rate increased to 16.269. Another unanimous vote by the board also approved the current digest and five-year history of levy.
Weiner said it was the board’s intent to either keep the millage rate as is or lower it during the next five years.
Concerned citizens at the board meeting asked if it would be possible for the county to exempt retirees from paying the millage rate. In the past, the issue was brought to a vote by the BOE, who voted it down.
“Because most of the wealth of Putnam County comes from retirees and those from around the lakes, to exempt all of us who are over 65, you would basically bankrupt the school system,” Weiner said. “It could not run.”
According to the presentation given by Arena, the state provides 36.3 percent of the school system’s funding, while the county provides 63.7 percent. Based on the Quality Basic Education Act passed in 1985, the state is supposed to cover 80 percent of education costs.
However, the percentage given by the state has gone up. At its low point, the 2014 fiscal year, the county had to cover 70.65 percent of the school’s funding.
As far as how the county is required to fund its contribution, Arena said the funding formula for the State of Georgia requires the school systems to have property taxes make up the bulk of digest.
“If just the parents of the kids were paying the property taxes, they would not be able to fund anything,” he said. “That structure has been in place for years and years.”
Arena said the state also considers Putnam County wealthy by its formula, due to the retiree population on Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair, making up the significant portion of the tax digest.
“If anybody has any contacts where we can convince the state of Georgia that we really are not a wealthy school system and that they could give us more money from the state, we would love to have that opportunity,” Arena said.
Arena said even with the increase in mills, the school board is going to have to cut more going forward. “There will be additional belt tightening that has to occur, and that’s just with the two mills,” he said.
In other action, the board:
• Was updated on several Putnam County High School students and their summer experiences at Albany State University
• Was updated by Derick Austin on safety plans the school system wants to initiate throughout its schools
• Approved personnel changes, including two assistant principals at Putnam County Middle School.