Murray County Schools likely to hold property tax rate steady

Ryan Anderson/Daily Citizen-News

Kindergarten students at Woodlawn Elementary School raise their hands to answer a question from teacher Michelle Coffelt during the first day of the 2020-21 school year. Murray County Schools remains on schedule to open the 2021-22 school year on time Tuesday, Sept. 7, although "that is subject to change depending on what happens in our community" regarding COVID-19, Superintendent Steve Loughridge said. 

CHATSWORTH — The Murray County Board of Education plans to hold the property tax rate steady at 15.5 mills, the same as it's been since 2003.

"We've kept it the same whether (local) property values went up or down, (even though) it costs more to live every year, as we all know," said Steve Loughridge, Murray County Schools' superintendent. While a millage rate of 15.5 should "bring in about $13.7 million" for the school system, that same millage rate provided $14.1 million in revenue for Murray County Schools in 2009, before "The Great Recession deflated everything."

Murray County Schools' millage rate is lower than any surrounding school system, Loughridge said.

"We try to live within our budget and be good stewards of taxpayer money."

Though the millage rate of 15.5 mills will remain the same, "the way Georgia code is written, it has to be labeled a tax increase, even though we don't feel like it is," because properties with higher assessments than the previous year will pay more in taxes, he said. "It has to be labeled a tax increase because property values go up or down depending on the market, and we have no control over" that.

"Your taxes could go down if your property value went down," he said. The school system "could raise the millage rate when property values go down, and that, to me, would be a tax increase."

A second public hearing for the millage rate will be at 9 a.m. Thursday at the school system's central office in Chatsworth. The final public hearing will be at Northwest Elementary School at 6:05 p.m. that day, and the school board members are likely to adopt the millage rate that evening.

Opening of school

Murray County Schools remains on schedule to open the 2021-22 academic year on time Tuesday, Sept. 7, although "that is subject to change depending on what happens in our community," as are the guidelines that officials established last Thursday, Loughridge said. "Murray County and Whitfield County are two of the hottest spots in the state right now" in terms of COVID-19 cases.

As of Friday afternoon, Murray County had recorded 312 COVID-19 cases during the past two weeks, while Whitfield County had 853 cases during that same period, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. A little more than a third of Whitfield County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and under 30% of Murray County residents are fully vaccinated.

Masks will be required on buses for all students, unless parents opt out their children, and masks will be encouraged in schools, as will COVID-19 vaccinations, Loughridge said. Neither masks nor vaccines will be mandated, although the school system may mandate masks depending on COVID-19 case numbers, but parents would be able to opt out their children.

Each school will handle its contact tracing, with each school's pupil services director coordinating those efforts, he said. Seating charts will be required in every class to make contact tracing easier.

Having each school perform its contact tracing "was suggested to us by the Department of Public Health," said Derichia Lynch, executive assistant to the superintendent. It also aligns Murray County Schools with what many other school systems "are doing this year."

Those who are deemed a close contact, meaning they were within three feet of someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes, may have to quarantine, Loughridge said. They would then be handed off to the county health department to learn the duration of their quarantine and other details.

Vaccinated students and staff exposed to someone with COVID-19 will not have to quarantine, however, as long as they remain asymptomatic, Loughridge said. If a student who tests positive for COVID-19 was wearing a mask at school, those who were exposed to him or her would not have to quarantine, either, so long as they were also wearing a mask and remain asymptomatic.

"There are ways you can avoid" quarantine, namely being fully vaccinated and/or wearing a mask, Loughridge said.

"Our goal is to keep everybody safe and in school."

Those who do have to quarantine will be considered distance learners as long as they turn their work in on time, but if they don't, they'll be deemed absent, then given an appropriate amount of time to complete their assignments, he said. If they fail in that, they'll be given an unexcused absence.

AdventHealth Medical Group Family Medicine will be open from 7:30 to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday at the AdventHealth Depot at 824 G.I. Maddox Parkway once the school year opens specifically to provide rapid testing for students and staff, he said.

"You don't need an appointment."

In addition, school system officials will work with health department officials to bring vaccination clinics to each school "to make it as easy as possible" for students and staff to be vaccinated, he said.

"The health department will also be at home (high school) football games for any community member to receive a vaccine."

More details on the school system's opening plans can be found on the system's website (https://www.murray.k12.ga.us/), Facebook page and on individual school websites.

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