published Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Catoosa County Ga., school board OKs property tax hike

RINGGOLD, Ga. — Keith Kenney was angry Tuesday night that he only had two minutes — instead of the five usually allotted — to make comments to the Catoosa County Schools board about a proposed property tax increase.

School officials said the shortened comment period was due to the overflowing crowd.

Still, Kenney had time to make a comparison between the deep cuts at his job at a Dalton, Ga., carpetmaker and the school district’s budget cuts — which he thinks don’t go far enough.

“My department got a cut of 50 percent,” Kenney said, adding, “How many people in the [school district’s] central office are earning more than $100,000 a year?”

The board voted 4-0 to increase the school’s tax rate by 1.95 mills to a total of 18.713 mills. The increase will mean an additional $95 annually for the owner of a $150,000 home. School officials said the tax hike was needed due to state funding cuts and higher costs.

Even with the tax increase, the district will make cuts, which Schools Superintendent Denia Reese outlined during a Powerpoint presentation.

The district will eliminate 35 positions this fiscal year through attrition, employees won’t get cost-of-living pay increases, they’ll continue to have five unpaid furlough days and — through a state waiver — class sizes will stay five students larger than recommended, Reese said.

But Reese ruled out cutting programs such as band, sports, advanced placement classes and vocational education. The school district also will keep school resource officers at all of its secondary schools.

Tax hike opponents, many of whom wore yellow shirts, outnumbered supporters by about three-to-one during public comment — although applause indicated anti- and pro-tax sides were closely matched.

Jeremy Jones, a leader of the tax opposition, said he objected to assistant principals earning more than $100,000 a year, and suggested the district hire more part-time employees with no benefits.

Lisa Murdoch, a registered nurse and mother of three boys, spoke in favor of the millage hike.

“When it comes to my children, there is no price on their education,” Murdoch said.

A woman who identified herself as a mother of six and grandmother of 16 got loud applause when she compared the cost of the tax hike to a bottle of Coca-Cola.

“I am willing to do without a Coke a day, if that is what I have to,” she said.

School board Chairman Don Dycus said that district held off on millage increases for as long as it could.

“Our hopes [were] that the economy would recover,” Dycus said.

Contact Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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