The Bryan County Board of Education approved a pair of millage rates and a fiscal year 2021 budget of approximately $85.5 million during an Aug. 6 workshop in Black Creek.
The millage rate of 15.075 is the same as last year and came after Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher said in May he might ask school board members for an increase of up to 2 mills.
That was later narrowed down to 1 mill, and in July Brooksher said the system, facing up to $6 million in state cuts, could go without increasing the millage rate for the 12th straight year.
Despite that, property owners will pay more in school taxes due to increases in property values and the school board’s decision not to adopt a rollback millage rate to offset the higher values.
Only the Bryan County Commission opted to take the rollback this year.
Taxpayers also are paying a 1.5 mill tax on debt service to pay back some $100 million in bonds issued to build new schools – including Frances Meeks Elementary School and a new Richmond Hill High School. Voters approved those bonds as part of a referendum on renewing the county’s Education Special Local Options Sales Tax, or ESPLOST, in 2017.
In a prepared statement, Brooksher lauded the board for supporting his recommended budget.
“Even with a $5.3 million state revenue reduction and the elimination of 30 positions through attrition, I am pleased that the Bryan County Board of Education is fully supportive of my recommended FY 2021 Budget that was prepared with no millage rate increase for the twelfth straight year.
Also, both the Board and I are excited that this budget includes funds to support both our face to face students and our e-Learners.”
Among the highlights: Bryan County Schools is projecting revenues in fiscal year 2021, which began July 1, of $83.8 million, salaries of $55.7 million and benefits of $20.2 million.
The system has around 1,300 employees. Typically, personnel costs are the highest of any government, and the school system is no exception.
Operations costs – i.e., utilities, air conditioning, repairs to buildings, gas for school buses and lawnmowers, for example – in 2021 are projected to be more than $10.5 million.
The system entered the fiscal year with a reserve of about $20.3 million, and will end the year with a reserve of less than $17.7 million. Also highlighted by Brooksher: A 403B match of 4 percent for employees was cut in half rather than eliminated.
No employees were furloughed, or will face furlough days, but 30 positions were cut through attrition and “teamwork of principals and system administrators,” Brooksher said.
The budget includes $213,000 to buy Chromebooks for all students.
It also includes $294,000 to keep leases on laptops for “all teachers and other school based support staff,” and $335,000 for “instructional resources that can be accessed online.”
Some pay raises were put on hold, but nobody will get a pay cut, Brooksher said, and those employees eligible for “step increases,” will get them.
In addition, the new budget includes $391,000 for “E-Rate infrastructure projects to upgrade connectivity” $40,000 to modify a gas tank and replace pumps at the South Bryan bus barn; $340,000 to buy four new school buses; $80,000 for personal protective equipment for staff and students; $147,000 for hand sanitizer, enhanced cleaning supplies and water bottle filling stations in the schools, and a $2 million transfer to the system’s capital projects fund.
In a Powerpoint presentation to school board members, Brooksher notes the system hasn’t raised its millage rate since 2009, and Bryan County Schools in 2010 had a millage rate of 15.537 and an enrollment of 7,271. That year, the system had a total budget of approximately $49 million.