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$4 million in state funds = 30 teachers

Gaining about $4 million of additional state funding allows Walker County Schools to increase staffing and improve the ratio of students-per-teacher for the 2017-18 school.

About $3.1 million comes from an Education Equalization Funding grant, money allocated to poorer counties such as Walker, that aims to close the gap between high and low property wealth school systems.

Phyllis Copeland, director of financial services for the system, said the biggest benefit to the system is it allows hiring 29 new teachers and a guidance counselor.

Not only will the grant money support new hires, its allows the system to increase pay for all certified and non-certified teachers by about 2 percent in this year's budget.

Some money will be used to increase the employer contribution — by about the same amount — to the system's retirement plan

Funding to help offset those raises and boosts to retirement benefits is based on the state's Quality Basic Education formula.

QBE funding is another funding source used to equalize education spending statewide. Like the EEF grant, this revenue is based on a county dedicating the equivalent of five mills (property tax collections) to educate students: a wealthy county is expected to contribute more to school funding while a poorer county will receive more state funding.

Superintendent Damon Raines said that Walker schools would face serious financial challenges without equalization grants and state shared revenue,

"If both of these went away, that would be a $3.5 million net loss," he said. "Other than a millage rate increase, other options would be going back to furlough days, staff reductions (yielding larger class sizes), cuts to programs and services."

The county's schools are within statemandated student/teacher ratios except for three classes. More money means more teachers, particularly in Early Intervention (EIP), Gifted and Remedial programs, where those ratios are critical.

"These categories earn state funds at a higher rate than regular ed students but class size must be lower than normal to get the extra funding," Copeland said. "If the class size exceeds the maximum for these programs, the students would be funded at the regular grade level category funding amount."

While total spending will increase about 7 percent compared to last year, officials said the amount of local taxpayer funding is actually about $400,000 less. That is because slightly more than $4 million in debt — money borrowed in 2002 for remodeling projects at several schools — was paid off last winter.

Overall, the local school system closely follows the national norm of spending slightly more than 60 percent of operating budgets on instruction. Walker County Schools' budgets for this and the past three years are available at walkerschools.org.

Though its budget has grown, the taxpayers' burden to support public schools has changed only slightly.

"The system has not increased the millage rate in over 10 years," Raines said. " Since 2010, these millage rate reductions have cost the school system approximately $3 million."

A few positions are in the process of being filled, but most of the new hires will to report for work on Aug. 3, the first day of school.

About the new year, the superintendent said this:

"The Walker County School System is excited about the amazing things happening across our District. We continue to expand our STEM and STEAM-related choices and are focusing on how to more effectively engage our students in every classroom. Our Mission is to "Ensure All Students Graduate: Ready for College, Ready for Work, Ready for Life" and we continue to work tirelessly to assure we have a plan for every student placed under our care to accomplish this mission. We are ready for another amazing year."

FYI:

Walker County's 2016 property tax rate was 24.469 mills for its unincorporated areas.

Of that amount, 7.838 mills was levied for the county's general fund while more than double that sum — 16.631 mills — was collected to run Walker's school system.

The school's portion of Walker County tax collections has remained stable for several years.

In comparison, Walker County Tax Commissioner Carolyn Walker has done research that shows Murray and Catoosa counties being the only ones within a 10-county area that have lower overall rates.

Catoosa has a rate of 7.295 mills as the county government portion and a total millage of 25.987, meaning their total tax rate is slightly higher than Walker's.

In nearby Floyd and Whitfield counties, the combined property tax rate exceeds 30 mills.


Trash yields treasure, landfill pays its way

After years of losses, Walker County's landfill profited from waste in June.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time in many, many, many years," Commissioner Shannon Whitfield said. "I would say it would be safe to say — probably 16 and a half years — that there has been any record or knowledge that after a full load of deprecation and post closure expense that the landfill has actually shown a net profit"

The county financial report shows the facility on Marble Top Road reported a profit of nearly $6,700 for June 2017 compared to having lost about $39,000 for the same month the previous year.

Whitfield, who assumed duties of commissioner in January following his successful bid to unseat 16-year incumbent Bebe Heiskell, had stressed cutting landfill losses during his campaign.

Landfill manager Paine Gilleywith turning the landfill around in just three months time at being on the job.

Whitfield said he was thankful Gilley was "on board and part of this team" and he was very impressed with the outcome and results.

"We have had a successful month and — hopefully — we can keep that trend going if we don't have any major breakdowns, or uhoh's, or hiccups or anything which could happen to any business," Whitfield said. "But at least we are getting to the point of getting this operational to a profitable standpoint and that is a huge accomplishment."


New records set as statewide jobless rate declines to 4.8 percent in June
Northwest Georgia trails, its unemployment rate rises to 5 percent

The Georgia Department of Labor recently announced that the state's seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate decreased for the fifth consecutive month to 4.8 percent in June, down one-tenth of a percentage point from 4.9 percent in May.

The last time the state recorded a jobless rate as low as 4.8 percent was in September 2007. In June 2016, the rate was 5.3 percent.

"Georgia's unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in almost 10 years, because our employers continue to create jobs and put record numbers of people to work," Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. "We now have record highs for the number of employed individuals, the labor force size and total number of jobs in Georgia."

Employers added 27,400 jobs in June, a 0.6 percent growth rate, which increased the total number of jobs to 4,496,000. The growth more than doubled the average May-to-June increase of 12,100 jobs for the past three years. Job gains came in leisure and hospitality, 9,200; professional and business services, 8,500; other services, such as repair, maintenance, personal and laundry services, 5,700; education and health services, 5,600; state and local government, 2,100; information services, 1,100; and trade, transportation and warehousing and financial activities, 1,000 each. The job gains were offset somewhat by losses in construction, 4,000, and manufacturing, 3,000.

Over-the-year, Georgia gained 122,600 jobs, a 2.8 percent growth rate, up from 4,373,400 in June 2016. The federal job growth rate was 1.6 percent. Georgia's job growth came in the following employment sectors: professional and business services, 37,400; leisure and hospitality, 21,900; education and health services, 18,100; trade, transportation and warehousing, 17,900; financial activities, 10,000; government, 8,300; information services, 4,500; other services, 3,900; and construction, 2,000. Manufacturing lost 2,500 jobs.

The number of employed residents rose by 8,782 to 4,797,789 from May to June. There were 153,335 more Georgians employed than in June 2016. The number of jobless residents declined by 5,385 to 240,923 in June. There were 18,394 fewer unemployed residents than in June of last year.

The labor force increased by 3,397 to 5,038,712 in June, partially because high school and college students entered the job market. The labor force consists of employed residents and those who are unemployed but actively looking for jobs. The labor force is up by 134,941 from 4,903,771 in June 2016.

The number of initial claims for unemployment insurance, a measure of new layoffs, increased by 771, or 3.1 percent, to 25,638. The increases came in manufacturing and construction, administrative and support services, accommodations and food services, and educational services, which includes private schools. Over the year, claims were down by 1,657, or 6.1 percent, from 27,295 in June 2016.

Employ Georgia, the GDOL's online job listing service at employgeorgia.com, showed 71,261 new job postings statewide for June.

On July 26, GDOL announced that the unemployment rate in the Northwest Georgia region in June was 5 percent, up three-tenths of a percentage point from 4.7 percent in May. In June 2016, the rate was 5.6 percent

The rate rose as the number of unemployed residents increased and the labor force grew.

The number of unemployed increased by 1,541 to 20,933. There were 1,975 fewer unemployed than in June 2016.

The labor force increased, partially because high school and college students entered the job market. From May to June, the labor force, which consists of employed residents and those who are unemployed and actively looking for jobs, increased by 2,265 to 417,019. Compared to June a year ago, the labor force had a net increase of 11,183.

Although the rate rose, there were still 724 more Northwest Georgia area residents employed in June than in May, pushing the total number to 396,086. The increase in the number of employed residents in June grew by 13,158 from June 2016.

The number of initial claims for unemployment insurance, a measure of new layoffs, decreased by 366, or 16.8 percent, to 1,819. Most of the decrease came in manufacturing. Over the year, claims were down by 894, or 33 percent, from 2,713 in June 2016.

Metro Gainesville had the lowest area jobless rate at 4.3 percent, while the River Valley region had the highest at 6.4 percent.

Meanwhile, Georgia's seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for June was 4.8 percent, down from 4.9 percent in May. It was 5.3 percent in June 2016.

Job seekers and employers are encouraged to use the GDOL's online job listing service employgeorgia.com to search for jobs or recruit new employees. In June, 2,951 new job openings in the Northwest Georgia region were posted on Employ Georgia. Throughout the state, 71,261 new job openings were posted.

Local area unemployment data are not seasonally adjusted. Georgia labor market data are available at dol.georgia.go