Welcome to the Cherokee County School District’s Fact vs. Fiction webpage. In these times of “fake news” circulated on social media and “unofficial” social media groups, this webpage is a place where you can find accurate information in a timely manner. This is an expansion of CCSD’s long-standing commitment to transparency and accountability and a part of our nationally recognized Open CCSD transparency project and webpage. If you have a question for us to consider, you can email it to email@example.com.
I saw a post on social media that the School Board is raising taxes ... is that true?
No. The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday night (May 20) reviewed the proposed budget for next school year, which calls for a reduction in the tax rate for all property owners and well-deserved pay increases for teachers and support staff.
The proposed 1.5 mills decrease in the tax rate is the first reduction proposed since 2014 and has been recommended by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower in light of rising home values.
“We do not determine property values – those are driven by the market and set by the county tax assessor’s office. We do control the school district’s millage rate, which is what property values are multiplied by to determine your tax bill,” he said. “We know homeowners are receiving their assessments this week, and the sticker shock is real, as home values are significantly up here. Cherokee County, with our great schools and safe community, is a very desirable place to live. Based on the budget I’ve proposed, your actual tax bill that you receive later this year will be lower due to a lower millage rate.”
The county tax assessor’s office, which sets property values, estimates the value of all property in the county (known as the tax digest) has increased by approximately 20% this year due to rising home values. As a result, Dr. Hightower has proposed reducing the millage rate by 1.5 mills. Due to timing issues for budget approval, the school district must take into account appeals to property values that will be filed and addressed by the tax assessor’s office and its board over the coming months, which will reduce the digest before it is finalized later this year. Citizens age 62 and older can file with the tax assessor’s office for an exemption from school taxes up to $446,700 of fair market value on their home.
The School Board and the public now can review the budget, which is posted online here, with three public hearings scheduled prior to the June 16 vote to approve the budget and property tax millage rate. The proposed total budget of $706 Million includes the $471 Million day-to-day operating budget, new school construction, bond debt retirement, School Nutrition and grants. As a companion to the budget, CCSD annually publishes Financial Facts, a report that shares important news from the budget with employees, parents and taxpayers. Read the new edition online here.
Dr. Hightower said, through long-term budget forecasting, he and his staff determined the millage rate reduction could withstand a market correction, but it would not be financially responsible to reduce it further this year. If the economic trends remain positive, he added, the School Board could be in the position to consider another millage rate reduction in 2023.
In addition to reducing the millage rate, the budget also calls for shifting .25 of the total mills from daily operating expenses to debt service reduction. This allows the school district to reduce the need for long-term debt for capital outlay projects and instead use Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) revenue. Additionally, this allows the school district to pay off construction debt faster, reducing interest costs to taxpayers. Last month, the School Board was able to retire some of its school construction bonds 11 years early, avoiding $7.8 million in interest payments.
The proposed millage rate reduction still leaves the school district with enough revenue to fund: increases to teacher and staff pay through “step” longevity raises, associated employer costs like FICA and Medicare for the Governor’s $2,000 pay raise for teachers taking effect in July and, in keeping with the school district’s practice of extending such raises to all employees, 2% cost of living raises and salary scale changes to provide parity, and increased teacher allotments to further lower class size. Pay rates for temporary workers including substitutes that were established as a pandemic relief measure will become permanent for next school year.