BoE Mulls Tax Increase

The May meeting of the Worth County Board of Education was fraught with bad news last Thursday evening as the meeting began with a room packed full of concerned students and family members. At least 10 students stood to appeal to the BoE for the opportunity to walk in the 2013 WCHS graduation ceremony with their classmates.
As each student’s story was told, images were painted of dedicated students who participated in JROTC or chorus and passed all of their classes, but these students did not pass the graduation exam, and are therefore ineligible to walk in cap and gown. Each parent, grandparent, and student shared similar stories of hard working and dedicated youth who completed every other requirement, but did not pass the graduation exam. The families asked the board to make an exception of their current policy and allow these students to walk with their friends this month.
Though the board members sat silent and listened to these similar requests, Chairman Butch Jenkins addressed the audience after each person on the list of guest speakers had been given the opportunity to talk. According to the chairman, “Current policy reads that you must fulfill all requirements in order to walk. One of those requirements is passing the graduation exam. It would take two readings of a new policy to change that policy… I don’t doubt that everybody has come a long way, and kudos to everybody that stayed in school. You could have dropped out, but you stayed in, and that says a lot towards your future.”
Continuing, the chairman stated, “I heard things: we spent money, just walk, just march, want to walk, please let her walk. What concerns me about that is, and there are four other board members up here, so this is just Butch. What concerns me about this is I didn’t hear, ‘he’s not getting a diploma, she’s not getting a diploma…’ Education is the number one thing, and that’s what we’re here about.”
The chairman said too much emphasis is placed on the ceremony, while the education that will serve the students in the future is overlooked. Finally, the chairman explained the board must hear two readings to change the policy, and the next meeting will be held on June 6, after graduation.
While the crowd was displeased with the board’s decision on the matter, Jenkins also said the board faces this issue every year, but the state mandate will change this year, and the graduation exam will “go away” this year and fall back upon the end of course test. Unfortunately for the seniors represented last Thursday, the test will be re-offered after graduation in July.
Moving along with the agenda, there was a brief bright spot on the evening between the two waves of tumultuous news. Superintendent Babs Thomas stood to first recognize middle school students who participated in the Georgia Southwestern Math Competition in Americus. From the sixth grade, Abbey Adkins was the first student called. Then, Nikiah Daniels was presented a certificate before Michael Smith was named. Seventh grader Southern Williams, along with Bradley Woodall were also presented a certificate for their efforts in the competition.
Next, Dr. Thomas stated that May 8 was School Nurse Appreciation Day in Georgia. The superintendent presented each of WCSS’s four nurses, Kelly Cooper (WCPS), Kimberly Kitchens (WCES), Claudia Johnson (WCMS), and Suzanne Lassiter (WCHSS). After naming each school nurse, Thomas stated, “Thank you all very, very much for all you do for our children.”
Dr. Thomas also presented a certificate to School Nutrition Employee of the Month for March, Mrs. Dot Allen. The superintendent stressed that every employee, from the nurses to the food service employees, plays a major role in the health and education of Worth County’s children.
Next, the board opened and awarded a few bids. First, the Minton School property was sold to Gerald Carter with a high bid of $36,150. After reviewing bids for custodial services, the board motioned to table awarding the bid to the low bidder until references and specs could be reviewed. Finally, the BoE awarded a copier bid to Coleson in the amount of $91,740.
After moving through several consent agenda items, the board moved into administration to consider adopting a tentative FY14 Budget and Salary Schedule. WCSS Finance Director Lisa Deariso warned the board the news for the upcoming budget is not good.
According to Deariso, the state will cut funding for the school system by $870,000 in 2014. Additionally, salary and insurance costs will increase by $740,000 in the upcoming fiscal year. Increasing taxes by 1.25 mils from 14.24 to 15.49 would generate $630,000 in local tax revenue and garner an additional $176,000 in state funds for a total of $806,000.
Deariso also says an average home owner in Worth County with a home valued at $100,000 would see a $50 per year increase in taxes. But, lakeside property owners could see their taxes increase by more than $500 per year. However, the tax hike would still not offset state cuts and the board would have to pull some $2.8 million from reserve funds to balance the budget in 2014.
The board voted unanimously to hold a called meeting and work session on Tues., May 14 at 7 p.m. so the members could consider the information before adopting the proposed FY14 budget. However, the tentative budget must be submitted to The Sylvester Local by Thursday in order for the final budget to be adopted on time.
After adopting the tentative budget, the Board of Education will hold two public hearings (most likely both will be held on June 6) before the final budget can be adopted. The board will hold their next regularly scheduled meeting on June 6 at 7 p.m.