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Schools face $2.5 million shortfall
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The Dawson County School System will enter the fall 2013 school year with a shortfall of $2.5 million in revenue.

Falling property tax values, austerity cuts, and increased health insurance costs have put a serious strain on the system.

In 2013, there has been a decrease of $1.9 million in tax revenues, according to School Superintendent Keith Porter.

"We simply cannot absorb more students without adding teachers," Porter said. "Our only option is to keep increasing class sizes."

Porter noted the school system is currently operating with 42 less employees this year than last because of budget shortfalls. And, increasing enrollments after the recent "kindergarten round-ups" are placing additional stress on the system.

Robinson Elementary Principal Roxanne Fausett said enrollment for next year is higher than expected.

"We had 70-75 during the first round up," she said, while noting normal enrollment is around 30-35.

The State Department of Education has ranked Dawson County the 10th wealthiest county in Georgia based on property values. And yet, because of that status, the county this year must give up 5 mills in property tax revenue, which means a loss of more than $8.6 million, according to a budget presentation led by Porter and Director of Financial Services Jamie Ulrich.

Currently, the state withholds five mills from each of its school systems. Systems that are considered poorer, based on property values in their county, receive "equalization" funding. While systems like Dawson County's, who property values are high, receive no equalization funding. Instead, funds are withheld, according to Porter.

Dawson County is not alone.

Of 180 school systems listed on the state's 2013 equalization funding chart, the top 46 systems all have funds withheld.

"We keep hoping the funding formula would change, but we still can't touch the first five mills," said Board Member Roger Slaton.

Additionally, health insurance costs continue to rise.

School systems throughout the state are expected to pay an additional $150 per month per employee for each non-certified worker in their system, Porter said earlier this year.

Non-certified employees include teaching assistants, clerical support, custodians, transportation workers, child nutritionists and media assistants.

For Dawson County, this means absorbing $423,400 in additional costs for both certified and classified employees.

The school board's immediate plans include meeting with the Dawson County Tax Assessors office.