The Jackson County Board of Education voted 4-1 Monday night to hike its operations millage rate to 19.276 mills, up from 18.9 mills last year. The BOE also voted to keep the system’s bond millage rate the same as last year at 3.1 mills.
Board member Tim Brooks was the only no vote on the millage hike. All three school systems in Jackson County are raising their millage rates this year. The board will vote to amend its budget Thursday night to reflect the new millage rate.
The increase in the JCSS operations millage rate is expected to generate $499,000 for the system, which has been struggling financially in recent years. But even with the higher millage rate, the system will net $1.4 million less in property tax revenues this year than it did last year because of the lower tax digest. The system expects to garner $25.6 million in property tax revenues this year while it took in $27 million last year.
Howard and assistant superintendent for operations Jamie Hitzges outlined to the board why the millage hike was necessary. Because of the lower tax digest and state funding cuts, the system has been dipping into its reserves. At the beginning of the current fiscal year, the system only had $2.2 million in reserves on hand and without a millage increase, would be “a blip away” from being in the red at the end of this year, Hitzges said.
Howard told the BOE that over the last year, the system had cut 50 positions, including six positions since June 1. Hitzges said the system plans to have cut $4 million in spending by the end of this fiscal year and another $6 million next year to get its finances back on track.
Howard pointed out that teachers are taking 10 calendar reduction days this year and school leaders are taking between 13-15 calendar reduction days. And she outlined how the system had consolidated some of its facilities on the east side of the county by shuttering the old South Jackson Elementary School building, closing the Gordon Street Center and using an empty wing for eighth grades at East Jackson Comprehensive High School.
For next year, the system is looking at a long list of other cost-cutting measures, including a reduction-in-force; moving the high schools off of their block schedules and back to a seven-period day; eliminating some school programs; eliminating field trips; another round of calendar reduction days; and sharing some employees among smaller schools.
System leaders have said that “all options” for cutting costs are on the table, including some that might prove to be very controversial if pursued.