A handful of concerned citizens attended a public hearing Thursday night to learn more about a proposal that will raise the millage rate in Bulloch County by half a mil.
The public hearing was one of three to be held. Two more will be held Thursday, July 22 – one at 3 p.m. and one at 6 p.m., followed by a Bulloch County Board of Education meeting where BOE members plan to vote upon the proposed millage rate increase.
The Bulloch County Board of Education has slashed its expenses, suffered state and federal funding cuts and still must raise the millage rate from 9.45 to 9.95, said Bulloch County Schools Assistant Superintendent Charles Wilson.
He gave visitors a handout explaining the need for the hike, and that school construction and technology are funded by an Education Special Local Option sales Tax (eSPLOST) and are not funded by property tax dollars.
He explained how the school system has already slashed expenses – eliminating over 100 positions through attrition, cutting custodial uniforms, slashing field trip expenses, ending funding to the Statesboro Regional Library and removing three assistant principal positions – one each from Statesboro High School and Stilson and Nevils elementary schools.
Staff development programs and other programs are altered or cut, and teachers and staff will get three additional furlough days. If needed, the number of furlough days could rise to six, he said.
After giving a presentation about the need for the hike, Wilson invited citizens who signed in to speak. Jimmy Hayes questioned a budgeted $1.3 million for “improvement of instructional services,” which BOE employee Troy Brown explained as including psychologists, counselors and behavioral analysts required for educating some students.
“Is this a school or a medical office?” Hayes asked. Bulloch County School Superintendent Dr. Lewis Holloway replied by explaining the need for such professionals in order for some students to succeed in education.
“Instead of putting a paddle on their behinds, we spend $1 million,” Hayes said.
“That’s a fairly simplistic theory,” Holloway said. He further explained the need for the professionals on staff.
Hayes still argued the point, saying the BOE spends unnecessarily. “It’s easy for you – all you have to do is raise my taxes and I have to come up with it. You have a gun to my head.”
The proposed increase will translate into $20 more per $100,000 worth of property a person owns.
Wilson explained that the decision to raise the millage rate was not an easy one.”I’ve never seen so much scrutiny put into a budget. We don’t see it as an easy answer to balance the budget on the backs of the tax payers.”
Hayes wife, Connie Hayes, also expressed opposition to the tax hike and reminded BOE members that teachers still work – albeit unpaid – on furlough days.
Carrie Howard also voiced opposition to the millage rate increase, stating that people in fixed incomes have a hard enough time paying taxes. She asked that the citizens be given more information before a decision is made.
Glennera Martin expressed concern with staff development funds being cut, citing the importance of staff development for better student education. But parent Jessica Orvis supported the proposed tax increase.
“I think we have to support the millage increase because our backs are against the wall,” she said. “My experience with the BOE is that they have been good stewards of our money.”
Susan Sneathen also spoke, bringing up a concern that the public is not educated on a great deal of educational issues, including mandates and requirements of No Child Left Behind – things that place demands on school systems that the public may not fully understand.
“Nobody likes a tax increase, but I would like to see our board take action…. Seek creative ways to find funding … there may be other things out there we can look at, such as grants with teacher input.”
Wilson reminded those attending that two more public hearings will be held before the board’s voting on the issue Thursday.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.