On Tuesday night, the Marietta school board heard a budget presentation containing a millage rate drop from 18.682 mills to 17.97 mills, a difference of $54 a year on a $200,000 home. The budget was dropped from 19.157 mills to 18.682 mills last year. Aside from the last two years, the millage rate has stood at 17.97 since 2001.
Superintendent Emily Lembeck said both millage rate drops were due to bond debt reduction from the $8.5 million Marietta Performing Arts Center. The school board will adopt a tentative budget for next school year May 20 and formally adopt the budget June 17.
The proposed budget also calls for 14.5 new teachers and a 2 percent pay hike for all regular employees, according to Erin Franklin, the system’s finance director.
Overall, plans call for a jump from 1,031 employees to 1,054 next year, though nothing has been finalized yet. Franklin updated the board on the budget during the board’s Tuesday night meeting. The district’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
Some of the increased budget is due to higher enrollment. The school system has 13.5 percent more students now than it did in 2008, growing from 7,735 students to 8,781 students — a difference of 1,046.
The district anticipates 316 new students next year, which accounts for an extra $300,000 in state revenue.
Lembeck said she doesn’t see the need for any new schools in the immediate future, but more classrooms might be added to existing schools in the next few years. Trailers could be in the works short-term, but Lembeck stressed they would not be a long-term solution.
Overall, Franklin’s presentation has the budget growing from $81.8 million to $85.1 million next year.
Both higher property values and more money from the state contributed to the increased revenue. Speaking to the board, Lembeck called the proposed budget the “kindest” that it has been seen since 2003, when the state started cutting money out of education budgets.
The budget dipped as low as $75.2 million during the recession in 2012, but is now above pre-recession levels, according to Franklin. The proposed 2014-15 budget has $1 million coming out of reserve funds, but Lembeck said the best-case scenario is for revenues to come in high enough that the reserve funds aren’t needed. She said this has been the case for the last several years.
“Because we have consistently budgeted conservatively, with ongoing attention to economizing without impacting vital programs, we have been able to meet our financial and program goals without accessing these undesignated reserve funds and anticipate doing the same this year,” she said.
Money put into building fund
The school board had $3.6 million left over from its current budget, but it voted to move the money into the building fund, rather than reserve funds, by a 6-0 vote Tuesday night.
The school system’s reserve fund will sit at $13.9 million on July 1, according to Franklin. Lembeck said the extra money will go toward renovations for Northcutt Stadium, but also toward smaller projects such as new classrooms and lighting.
Another project that could be paid for out of the building fund is a new lighted sign at Marietta High School.
The board discussed the cost and potential locations of a digital sign that would be placed near Marietta High School, possibly on Whitlock Avenue.
MHS Principal Leigh Colburn spoke to the Marietta City Council earlier this month, asking if the city would be interested in paying for the sign because it would be a good way to advertise city events and school news.
Colburn noted the school system is paying for the Marietta Performing Arts Center, which she called a tourist draw for the city.
But it appears the city balked at the idea.
Mayor Steve Tumlin argued at the city council meeting the city shouldn’t foot the bill for the sign and noted the school board is able to collect property taxes at a higher rate than the city. The city’s property tax is just 4 mills, compared to almost 18 mills for the school system.
“I think we all have a lot of projects and a sign is not a core function of this city,” Tumlin said at the time.
Councilman Stuart Fleming, who once served on the Marietta Board of Education, also questioned the need for the city to pay for a sign that would be used by the school system.
“The fact that the school board has $17 million in reserves and can’t figure that out is a little concerning to me, having sat on that board,” Fleming said.
Colburn had estimated a brick sign with landscaping would cost about $125,000, but on Tuesday night, Lembeck said she had no idea how much the final sign will cost. The Marietta school board is now looking at paying for the sign itself.
School board member Jeriene Bonner-Grimes said Tuesday “the city didn’t want it.”
Lembeck said Colburn had been invited to speak to the city council about the sign.
“The board had never discussed that before,” she said. “It originally was the Marietta Schools Foundation that had talked about raising funds. Then the council somehow got involved with that and Mrs. Colburn was asked to attend a council meeting.”
Asked who invited Colburn to attend the meeting, Lembeck said “she was told that she was on the agenda.”
“As a board and a superintendent, we had not communicated with the city at all,” she said. “Now our board is discussing it and determining how they think they should best handle it.”