Originally created 11/14/97

Educators asking officials to make up tax shortfall



Because of an adjustment by state auditors in calculating property assessments, Columbia County schools will be out about $800,000 in state money next year.

"That's going to be new monies into the state coffers at our expense," said Associate Superintendent Tommy Price.

But Columbia County school officials are hoping the extra money -- projected to be $100 million statewide in local fair share payments -- won't whet the Legislature's appetite for spending on new programs.

"What we're saying (to the Legislature) is, `Don't consider that new money to pay for new things. Give us that money back in the (Quality Basic Education payment) formula. Don't use it for new things because you're taking it right out of our pockets.' "

School board members met Thursday with Columbia County's legislative delegation -- state Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling; state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans; and state Rep. Bill Jackson, R-Appling -- to discuss education funding priorities for the 1998 legislative session.

Acting on recommendations by the Georgia School Superintendents Association, school officials asked legislators to free up additional money in recognition of events that will adversely affect local schools' budgets.

Besides the $800,000 shortfall, school board trustees asked if anything is planned to offset the $135 million revenue loss school systems suffered as a result of the staggered car tag system. Columbia County lost $1.4 million in potential revenue, said Superintendent Tom Dohrmann.

A major budget factor is Gov. Zell Miller's last round of promised six percent teacher pay raises that local school systems must pay for, school officials said. This year, it's costing $4.7 million to accommodate those pay increases in Columbia County, Dr. Dohrmann said.

"If you add all that up together, we're going to be hurting," said trustee Jean Smith. "These were all things that were done to us."

There should be roughly $670 million surplus that can be funneled to the state's supplemental budget to cover the motor vehicle property tax situation, Mr. Harbin said.

"The ad valorem tax was an oversight. But there'll be some money freed up there," he said.