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By TINA E. VAUGHN
INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County leaders have had their first look at a proposed 2011-12 school budget that includes $5.56 million in local funds — and indicated that a tax increase is the only way to fund the request.
The Grayson County School Board officially presented its $21 million budget proposal to the supervisors during a joint meeting March 28 with about 30 citizens and school personnel in attendance.
Sometimes jovial, sometimes tense, the meeting was the first between the boards since budget discussions last year.
The school board said it needs about $1.4 million more from the county than it received this year to address major state and federal funding cuts, critical maintenance and transportation issues and to provide much-needed pay raises for staff.
Some supervisors and Administrator Jonathan Sweet warned that, though Grayson finances are slowly improving, that doesn’t mean the county is in a position to increase its spending.
Sweet and Supervisors Chairman Larry Bartlett compared the county to a sick person. While Grayson is taking its medication and is slowly getting better, doing too much too soon inevitably means a setback — or worse, they warned.
“If we’re not careful, we’ll kill the recovery,” Bartlett said.
For the past three years, the Grayson school budget saw a 23-percent cut in state funding — more than $3.5 million. That trend continues: a state budget approved Feb. 27 gives Grayson about $154,000 less in funding compared to this year’s budget. While federal boosts like stimulus grants and jobs bill money helped offset some of those cuts, those federal funds are running out — and won’t be coming back.
County leaders indicated that the school system’s requested amount of local funds would require an increase in the county’s current real estate levy, currently set at 49 cents per $100 valuation.
(Sweet said it takes seven cents on the levy to generate $1 million.)
However, school officials noted that just four years ago, Grayson gave the school system more than $5 million — and that was years before the county approved a 44 percent increase in the real estate levy for 2010-11.
“You’ve moved that money somewhere else,” said School Board Member Shannon Holdaway.
School board members noted that it’s their responsibility to represent and make requests to help their students and staff.
Bartlett said he appreciated the school system’s efforts. “I would expect no less than for you to ask for what you feel that you need ,” he said.
• The county will hold a public hearing on the school budget today, Wednesday, at 6:30 p.m. in the Grayson County Courthouse Boardroom.