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The Macon Newsroom

Bibb County school board considers property tax increases for 2025 budget

Bibb+County+school+board+considers+property+tax+increases+for+2025+budget

Bibb County School District Superintendent Dan Sims wants to raise property taxes, save money by switching virtual school learners to a cheaper online platform and give hefty raises to certain administrative positions.

Sims voiced his preference for a 1.5 mill increase Thursday evening upon prompting from a school board member following the third and final budget presentation for fiscal year 2025.

“It positions us to remain competitive,” Sims said of the tax increase. “Our long term thought process to get us into the space where, if we need to and if we’re able to, we can accommodate the salary increases. The other part we have to keep in mind is the continued needs for technology … We do want to ensure there’s a general fund cushion so that those needs, when they arrive, can be met.”

The proposal to increase taxes came alongside news that the district received about $17 million from the state, an amount unexpectedly higher than previous years. Most of it comes from a $11.4 million equalization grant from the Georgia Department of Education, an amount the state grants to school districts yearly to ensure they are equitably funded regardless of each county’s property wealth. Additionally, the district received $5.6 million from the state due to adjustments made to the funding formula that are related to increased health insurance costs.

“This is a complete game-changer for us,” CFO Eric Bush said of the extra revenue.

If approved by the board at its regular meeting May 16, the 1.5 mill increase preferred by Sims would bring the millage rate from 14.67 to 16.17 mills. Bush’s projection for the budget assuming the 1.5 mill increase positions the district for a $2.4 million surplus and an ending fund balance of $61 million.

The owner of a home valued at $100,000 with a homestead exemption currently pays the district $484 in taxes. A one mill increase would raise that tax bill by $33. A 1.5 mill increase would raise it by $50 and a 2 mill increase would raise it by $66.

Four other options Bush presented to the board include:

  1. No changes to the millage rate, no school closures and no pay raises: $7.1 million budget excess, ending fund balance $65.7 million
  2. No changes to the millage rate, everyone gets a pay raise including extra raises for certain administrators: $5.9 million budget deficit, ending fund balance $52.6 million
  3. 1 mill increase, everyone gets a pay raise including extra raises for certain administrators: $390,665 budget deficit ending fund balance $58.2 million
  4. 2 mill increase, everyone gets a pay raise including extra raises for certain administrators: $5.2 million budget excess, ending fund balance $63.8 million

Hefty Raises

All employees should see small increases in their paychecks next year due to across-the-board salary increases approved in the Georgia governor’s budget, but several administrative employees are set to receive much heftier salary bumps in addition to those small raises.

Board member Daryl Morton questioned why significant pay raises were being proposed for certain administrative positions and “identified leadership positions” while all other employees receive incremental pay raises. Morton noted in particular the $22,475 salary increase proposed for the district’s chief communications officer, Stephanie Hartley. Hartley’s 2023 salary was $115,544, according to Open Georgia.

“Those were specifically identified and discussed with cabinet to get them on a level equal to their peers,” Bush said.

Sims, replying to Morton, said he was grateful to have discussed the proposed raises with each individual board member prior to the meeting.

The salary study “gave us great information in terms of the gaps that exist from assistant principal to deputy superintendent,” Sims said. “While the chief communications officer was covered in the salary study, it was an exception based on it being an outlier even before the salary study.”

Morton asked, “So we have certain positions we’ve decided to treat differently? For various reasons?”

Sims replied, “To an extent, yes.”

Other positions could receive smaller raises including:

  • A 5-10% salary increase for certain unnamed positions in nutrition
  • A 4.1% raise for nutrition servers, monitors, cashiers, assistants
  • A custodial staff supplement of $1,000
  • A 10% raise for bus drivers and monitor

Cost Cutting

The school board has for years discussed the need for it to close schools to demonstrate fiscal responsibility with taxpayer dollars. Even so, little to no progress has been made on beginning that process.

Closing one school could save the district as much as $1.5 million to $2 million each year, according to information presented to the school board during the first budget work session meeting in March.

School closures were not part of the discussion at Thursday’s budget work session, but Bush said the district has been working since November to identify programs and expenses that could be eliminated or reduced to save money. The total potential savings identified so far is just over $2 million.

Sims proposed cutting the contract amount by two thirds for Edgenuity, an online platform that uses video to instruct students attending the district’s virtual school.

The superintendent’s proposed budget decreases funding for it from $1.4 million to $501,000, a reduction of about $900,000. The school will continue using Edgenuity on a limited basis and some students will switch to a new-to-the-district online platform called Georgia Virtual School.

The school board is set to vote on a tentative budget at its regular monthly meeting Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Professional Learning Center on Riverside Drive. Public hearings, if needed, are set for June 11 and June 20 with the final adoption at the June 20 meeting.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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