If anybody was a little confused about why the Dade County Board of Education called public hearings on its proposed fiscal year 2017 millage rate, then called them off, or about whether or not the board proposed to raise its millage rate—basically, the percentage of property value homeowners pay as school tax—and about what the heck is meant by this "millage rollback" we keep hearing so much about, Paula Stallings, the B of E's Finance Director explained all at the board's regular August meeting Monday night.
Well, Ms. Rollings explained most at the board's regular August meeting, and if a few eyes were still crossed on the way out, what is Google for?
Here is what The Planet gleaned from Ms. Stallings' explanation, supplemented by the Georgia Department of Revenue's website: The whole confusion in Dade this summer arose not because of any proposed tax increase by the B of E—there was not one—but because of the recent revaluation of property by the Assessor's office, which rather spectacularly raised the assessed value of some large rural properties.
What that potentially could have meant was that the B of E—as well as the county commission—might have collected more tax money this year though their millage rates remained the same.
The Rollback Rule of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which became law in 2000, was specifically designed to deal with situations like that, when real taxes are increased by inflation as opposed to a millage rate hike. In such situations, a rollback rate must be applied that will produce the same total revenue on the current year's new tax digest that last year's millage rate would have produced had no reassessments occurred. On its website, the Georgia Department of Revenue offers local taxing authorities a spreadsheet to calculate the rollback.
The Board of Education, like the county commission, had chosen to go with the rollback this year. But in calculating the rate, a number had been entered in the wrong column of the spreadsheet, and Ms. Stallings missed it in proofreading. She apologized for that humbly. "Next year we'll bring the rollback sheet in here and everybody can look at it together," she offered.
(Little enthusiasm was evinced by the board for this plan; but here The Planet must interject that the new schools superintendent, Dr. Jan Harris, began life as a math teacher, so who knows what next year may hold?)
That data entry error made it appear that the effective millage rate would produce more tax revenue than the school system reaped last year, which would have required public hearings. But the error was caught, and it was determined that the new tax digest had not in fact changed projected tax revenues that much--"Some people will pay a little more their property, some people will not," said Ms. Stallings—and that the millage rate as it stood required no hearings. "At 15.509, we do not have to have the three public hearings," said Ms. Stallings. "If 1 mill were bringing in more money, then yes, we would have had to have the public hearings."
So the public hearings are off, taxes will not be raised, the rollback rate will be applied by both the board of education and the county commission, and both taxing authorities will hold special called meetings to adopt their millage rates next Thursday, Aug. 25, the B of E at 6 p.m. and the county commission at 6:30. End of story, and if there are inaccuracies, sorry, The Planet did not begin life teaching math.
The board voted without further incident to adopt the $18,133,590 budget Ms. Stallings had presented at last month's meetings. She said it still represented a $177,836 shortfall over projected expenses, which will have to come from the system's reserves.
In other business, with the new school year barely begun, administrator William Hooker (left) gave a progress report on summer capital improvement projects in the schools: "When the teachers came back, there was air the school," he said, intimating it had been a very near thing. One replaced air conditioner unit had had to be "re-replaced," he reported, and: "ECI is still setting the controls."
When the improvements are completed, he said, temperatures will be controllable from a laptop, and the more efficient HVAC system should lessen the system's utility bills. "We still have to check the heating element," he added, noting that the sizzling August days had so far offered no opportunity to do so.
Hooker also spoke on the "Strategic Waiver School System" Dade's schools had opted into, as opposed, he explained, to the charter school system, the other option offered by the state.
The waiver system allows the schools greater flexibility, said Hooker, allowing schools when needed to exempt themselves from state-mandated requirements such as class size, academic calendar or required staffing in certain teaching areas. "We let the principals decide staffing," he said. He noted that the calendar waiver is not in use right now—this year, the schools are offering the full recommended 180 days of instruction —but that the exemption has proven handy in leaner times.
But opting into the waiver system requires the Dade schools to be extra careful about reporting, said Hooker. "In order to get that greater flexibility, we have to show greater accountability," he said.
Specifically, Dade's schools must prove that they have improved academically over the baseline of last year in specified increments over the next five years or the state may step in with "school management support and intensive teacher development support."
Hooker wasn't worried about that happening in Dade's system. It was important to collect and monitor data, he said, but things are looking great this year. He gave most credit to the elementary schools for teaching the basic skills needed to excel in later academics, he said. "We're in a forward motion," said Hooker.
The board went into an executive, or closed-door, session for some 48 minutes, and returned to announce it had approved the resignations of Sarah Bailey, a paraprofessional special education bus aide; Valene Roelfs, a science teacher at Dade Middle School; and Kurt Wallin, a custodian, also at DMS.
The board had approved the hiring of special education paraprofessional Karen Johnson for Dade High; lay softball coach Haleigh McBryar for Dade Middle and High; and Matthew Veal as a substitute custodian at the district level. Additionally, it approved an unspecified supplement for Lamerle Howard, FTE coordinator.