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    Organization: Georgia Association of Educators     Date: 1/18/2019


  Cobb school board to vote on ‘19 budget; Lone board member suggesting tax hike  

(Thursday,05/17/2018 ©  Marietta Daily Journal)

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale will ask Cobbs school board to approve his $1.2 billion fiscal 2019 budget Thursday, but one member plans to pitch a tax increase first.

If Ragsdales budget is approved Thursday evening, board members would be tapping into $7.8 million in reserves to balance the budget. Last year, the district used $3.2 million in reserves.

David Morgan, the school boards lone Democrat, said he will suggest raising the millage rate at Thursdays meeting so the district can pay its employees more money.

Ragsdales tentative fiscal 2019 budget already includes a one-time 1.1 percent bonus for teachers and a 1.1 percent raise for all permanent employees. It also includes a full salary step raises based on years of experience for all eligible employees.

But Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, says thas not enough to keep up with an ever-increasing cost of living.

She is petitioning the board to raise its millage rate from 18.9 mills to Georgias 20-mill cap. And she has elicited the help of the districs teachers, employees and parents to email board members asking them to support the tax hike.

The budget has been balanced on the backs of teachers and employees since the recession, and is time now for them to start making things fair, Jackson said.

She called Ragsdales 1.1 percent raise proposal a nice gesture, but said it didnt amount to much on a paycheck, particularly for Cobb employees making less than $20,000 a year.

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Is not enough money, she said, voicing concerns that Cobb could lose teachers to surrounding districts that pay more. Thas not enough to buy the gas to get you to and from school.

Raising Cobbs millage rate to the maximum allowed by law would cost the average Cobb homeowner $80 more a year.

Under the existing rate, the owner of a home valued at $206,000 pays about $1,374 annually in school taxes, according to Brad Johnson, the districs chief financial officer.

Ragsdale said he has no plans to propose a tax increase. His initial budget proposal included a 1.1 percent bonus for teachers, bus drivers, maintenance workers and hourly employees, but no raises.

But the superintendent revised his budget proposal after Gov. Nathan Deal announced the state would fully fund K-12 education next year, placing an additional $10 million in Cobbs coffers. With the cash infusion, Ragsdale proposed $9 million be used for a 1.1 percent raise for permanent employees. The rest of the money would be added to an account set aside to hire additional teachers when a school exceeds projected student enrollment.

State education funding is partly generated through the states 5-mill share requirement, which calls for local school districts to give the state 5-mills worth of tax revenue, which is then redistributed across Georgia. Cobb lost $144 million to the states 5-mill share formula in fiscal 2018. While districts where wealth-per-student falls below the state average get some of that funding back in the way of equalization grants, Cobb doesntma

king it what some call a donor county, said board Vice Chairman David Chastain.

In fiscal 2016, employees received a 4 percent raise. The following year, employees were given 2.5 percent raises and last year, they were given 1.1 percent bonuses without raises.

But board members say they have been inundated with emails from teachers, parents and bus drivers requesting pay raises at Jacksons urging.

Chastain said hes received about two dozen calls and emails in the last five days from employees pushing for a tax increase and more money.

He said while he would love to offer bigger raises for employees, he has qualms about raising property taxes on Cobb homeowners and maxing out the districs millage rate at the 20-mill cap.

Board member Randy Scamihorn, a former teacher and administrator, said he would love to double the salaries of all CCSD employees, but wants them to know the district is already stretching its resources thin to offer raises and bonuses.

If we raise the millage rate 1.1 mills, what do we do next year or the year after? Scamihorn asked. If we go all the way up, where do we go from there?

Chastain and board Chairman Brad Wheeler voiced similar concerns, saying if Cobb maxes out its millage rate and theres another economic downturn, board members will have no choice but to make cuts. Ragsdale estimates the district is still short about 900 teachers from the recession.

During the recession, the Cobb school board opted to keep its millage rate at 18.9 mills and balanced its budget by cutting spending. The millage rate has been steady at 18.9 mills since 2007, when the board lowered the rate from 19 mills.

Board member Scott Sweeney said Wednesday he has no intention of supporting a tax increase either.

But Morgan said Cobb is short-changing its employees and hopes to convince his colleagues they could do more by supporting a small rate increase.

The third and final public hearing for the 2019 budget will be held at 1:30 p.m. followed by the boards monthly work session at 2 p.m. and evening voting meeting at 7 p.m. All meetings will be held at the districs central offices, located at 514 Glover Street in Marietta.