For the fourth straight year, the Muscogee County School District is giving pay raises.
The total general fund budget the Muscogee County School Board approved last week for fiscal year 2019, which started July 1, is $302.7 million, including transfers to other funds. That's an increase of $13.9 million (4.82 percent) compared to last fiscal year.
The vast majority of the projected $295.6 million in total expenditures comes from the $254.5 million (86.07 percent) for salaries and benefits and the $41.1 million (13.93 percent) for operations.
Here is a breakdown of the MCSD pay raises:
▪ 2 percent raise for all certificated staff, costing approximately $5 million.
▪ Passing along step increase within the state’s teacher salary schedule.
▪ Wage and salary increase for approximately 60 percent of non-certificated staff, including part-time employees, costing $1.6 million.
▪ Additional school instructional and support staff, costing $2.6 million.
▪ Security staffing and operational adjustment for establishing an MCSD police department, costing $1,692,467.
After giving property owners a tax cut last year by reducing the millage rate for the first time in 21 year — from 23.37 to 23.321, amounting to a decrease of $250,204 in local revenue for MCSD — the board kept the rate at 23.321 this year.
Superintendent David Lewis wrote in the budget document that this spending plan “supports our vision of becoming a beacon of educational excellence where all are known, valued, and inspired.”
Here's how the FY 2019 budget expects MCSD to spend taxpayer money compared to FY 2018:
▪ $193,518,813 for instruction, a 5.03 percent increase.
▪ $28,914,145 for facility maintenance and operations, a 4.62 percent increase.
▪ $20,099,761 for school administration, a 2.57 percent increase.
▪ $13,322,978 for student transportation, an 11.27 percent increase.
▪ $12,684,067 for central support services, a 2.81 percent increase.
▪ $10,478,809 for student services, a 14.52 percent increase.
▪ $5,004,378 for educational media services, a 22.2 percent increase.
▪ $4,962,241 for improvement of instruction, a 13.56 percent decrease.
▪ $3,420,312 for business services, a 1.63 percent decrease.
▪ $2,024,527 for general administration, a 5.05 percent decrease.
▪ $629,848 for community services operations, a 17.6 percent decrease.
▪ $489,250 for other outlays, no change.
▪ $110,000 for other support services, a 29.41 percent increase.
MCSD’s projected total general fund revenue of $282.6 million is an increase of $12.1 million (4.47 percent) over last fiscal year. This boost comes from mostly the state’s $11.9 million (7.66 percent) increase in allocations to MCSD, totaling $282.6 million and providing the majority (59.3 percent) of the district’s revenue.
This is the first time in 16 years the state has fully funded its share of the Quality Basic Education formula. Meanwhile, the local revenue picture is blurry, maybe even gloomy.
As the Ledger-Enquirer previously reported, the Muscogee County tax assessors conducted the first countywide revaluation project in more than 30 years, resulting in significant property assessment increases, some as high as 1,000 percent.
The controversial project, launched in conjunction with a software upgrade through Tyler Technologies, delayed state approval of the tax digest, 60 percent of which goes to the Muscogee County School District and 40 percent to the Columbus Consolidated Government. Both entities were forced to pursue temporary loans to cover the revenue gap.
All of which means, despite the 12.35 percent growth in the calendar year 2017 tax digest from the property revaluations, the revenues have not been collected at that rate. That’s why MCSD is projecting local property tax revenue for FY 2019 to be flat compared to FY 2018 at $109.9 million, 38.9 percent of total general fund revenue.
Also remaining the same is the amount of transfers to other funds. The $7.1 million in total transfers includes $6.5 million to the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries and $500,000 to the capital projects fund.
MCSD plans to use $20.1 million of its reserve to balance the FY 2019 budget. That would leave an estimated $33.8 million in reserve, equating to 28 days of operating expenditures.
As of June 30, 2017, MCSD had 50 days worth of operating expenditures in reserve. The Government Finance Officers Association recommends a minimum of two months worth in reserve for agencies to receive the best bond ratings and interest rates.
The reserve money needed to balance the FY 2019 budget is approximately triple the amount that balanced the FY 2018 budget: $6,757,873.