Following a third and final public hearing on the millage rate held Thursday, Sept. 21, the Long County Board of Education voted 3-2 to raise the current 13.483 millage rate to 14.50, an increase of 1.017 mills. School Board Chair Florence Baggs made the motion for the increase and Vice Chair Julie Dawson seconded it. They and Board Member Marcus DeLoach voted for the increase. Board Members Dr. Carolyn Williamson and Linda DeLoach opposed it.
Prior to his vote on the 14.50 mill increase, Marcus DeLoach had motioned for an increase of 14 mills. Williamson seconded the motion. As only these two board members voted for the measure, it did not pass.
During the hearing, Baggs asked school administrators to review four options the board had previously considered regarding the millage rate.
Option A would have kept the rollback on the millage rate, which would have caused the school district to lose more than $4 million in equalization funds from the state. The school board had voted 3-2 during a called meeting in August to rescind rolling back the millage rate and instead voted to consider raising it. The reversal was prompted by a new state law that would cause the system to become ineligible for equalization grant monies if the mil rate was rolled back.
Georgia Law requires a qualified school system to have a 13.5 millage rate (or equivalent) by July 1, 2018 and at least 14 mills by July 1, 2019 to be eligible for equalization grant funds. Equalization grants are, “an additional aid provided to school systems intended to narrow the gap between systems in terms of property tax wealth per pupil,” according to school officials. These grants are based on the wealth gap between systems across Georgia.
Option B would have increased the mill rate to 13.5, which would have allowed the system to retain the grant, but would only have increased property tax revenue for the district by $6,429. Option C, which Marcus DeLoach had initially voted for, would have increased the mill rate to 14 mills. This option would have retained the state funds, and would have increased property tax revenue by $159, 503. However, administrators cautioned that with this option, the possibility of a required rollback could make the district ineligible for equalization funding if the rate fell below 14 mills.
Option D, which a majority of the board approved, will keep the school system equalization fund grant eligible, and bring in property tax revenues of $312,578. This amount will allow the district to purchase three new school buses at a cost of $330,000, to replace aging buses, according to Long County School Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters.
School officials reiterated that 65 percent of Long County students ride school buses on 40 regular bus routes. Twenty-seven of Long County buses are more than 10 years old, and four buses on regular routes are more than 20 years old, they said. The recommended life cycle of a bus is 10 years.
When asked if students were riding school buses by sitting in each other’s laps, as claimed by a parent who contacted the Coastal Courier, Waters replied no, they were not. Each school bus has 24 seats, he said. Younger, smaller students can sit at least three to a seat, bringing the ridership on a bus up to 72 passengers, Waters explained. The state allows 20 percent more bus ridership, which equals 14 more students to a bus, he said. This brings the maximum allowed number of riders to 86. Buses that serve elementary and middle school students can seat as many as four students to some seats. Buses on the high school routes would likely seat fewer students per seat, the superintendent said.
In other school board business, the BOE was offered a pictorial update on the construction for the new elementary and middle school building off Highway 84. The roof’s layers are going in and windows on the elementary school wings have been installed. Despite delays caused by rain in July and logistical snafus in acquiring construction materials, the project is on schedule for completion in March 2018, Waters said.
School officials also announced that Long County High School’s Homecoming parade has been rescheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12. The parade will begin at 6 p.m., with participant line-up starting at 5 p.m. in the bus loading zone at Long County Middle School. The parade route will be along Highway 57.
LCHS will kick off its homecoming game on Friday, Oct. 13.