At the regular Liberty County Board of Education meeting March 12, Chief Operations Officer Jason Rogers presented the first initial estimated budget information to the board in preparation for budget talks for upcoming BOE work sessions in March and April. The board must approve a final budget by July 1.
Liberty County schools are funded 21 percent by the local government, 57 percent by the state government, and 22 percent by the federal government, Rogers said.
“Our federal percentage is a great deal larger than other districts because of Impact Aid,” Rogers said. Impact Aid was designed by the federal government to assist local school districts that have lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal property, or that have experienced increased expenditures due to the enrollment of federally connected children, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Property taxes provide the primary source of local funding for LCSS, Rogers continued. Those taxes are based on the county millage rate that’s adopted by the Board of Education annually, he continued. The millage rate process is determined through tax assessors evaluating property in Liberty County and assigning a value for tax purposes. Last year, Liberty County Board of Education adopted a millage rate of 16.5 percent, which is the current 2019 rate.
The largest portion of state funds coming from the Quality Basic Education Act (QBE). The QBE sets out provisions for educational funding for Kindergarten through 12th grades, according to the Georgia Department of Education. The state of Georgia utilizes a state funding formula that’s based on the full-time equivalent (FTE) student counts in 19 instructional programs.
“The law is intended to ensure each student, regardless of where they live, receives a quality basic education,” Rogers said.
QBE does not provide any state funds for social security costs, worker’s compensation, athletics or other extra-curricular activities. For Liberty County, the unfunded mandates are increasing the out-of-pocket costs to offer things such as student transportation. However, 90 percent of QBE funds go to paying LCSS salaries, Rogers said.
Unfunded mandates are simply a regulation that requires a state or local government to perform certain actions, with no money provided for fulfilling the requirements, according to the American Action Forum.
Last year, Rogers said, Liberty County paid 83 percent of the overall cost to transport students, and 100 percent of the cost to transport students living within one and a half miles of a school.
Federal funds come with numerous strings attached, allowing for little flexibility in terms of where it can be spent, Rogers added. Impact aid, however, allows for wiggle room, since it comes from the federal government to replace missing revenue.
Specifically, LCSS’s budget process starts with the board and superintendent setting the vision and using input from the community and employees to set priorities for the district’s educational programs, Rogers said.
“Due to salaries and benefits comprising the majority of the overall budget, there are very minimal funds remaining,” he said. “We’re going through right now having funds allocated by the state. We don’t have a budget yet specifically, but we have a good idea of where it’s probably going to land. We have to take into account our millage rate to know what kinds of local funds will be generated, and the board must operate under a balanced budget.”
Recent bills in the state capitol have brought changes to the budget, including a reduction in dual enrollment funding, a major program for students in Liberty County. The 4.2 million reduction will see an age limit imposed on those students wishing to participate, potentially limiting the program to juniors and seniors. More information on the changes will be released soon.
LCSS must also budget for a $2,775 pay increase for all certified staff members, Rogers said. The original budget also called for a two percent increase for bus drivers, nurses and cafeteria workers, Rogers continued.
“Of the 794 certified staff members we have, we expect to receive funding for only 754,” Rogers said. “Why is that? Because 754 are the amount of positions that earn on the QBE allotment sheet. This creates a funding gap of $111,000.”
In regards to classified staff, when the state grants certain increases for classified positions, the district applied the increase to all classified employee scales, Rogers added.
“Whenever we look at a two percent increase across the district for all staff, that’s going to be about $250,000. If we look at what we would expect to receive from the state for the classes mentioned, that’s about $90,000, so here we’d have to kick in an additional $160,000. That’s not including benefits, that’s just straight salary.”
In fiscal year 2019, the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia raised the employer contribution rate from 16.81 percent to the current rate of 20.9 percent, and for FY 2020, the rate will increase to 21.14 percent, Rogers said.
“We’re getting to the point for every dollar that an employee earns in a TRS eligible position, we’re having to contribute almost a quarter. If we get absolutely nothing in regards to salaries, it would be another $140,000.”
Approximately, LCSS gives nearly $12.3 million in annual contributions to TRS, Rogers said.
Budget discussions will begin in the March 26 BOE work session.