Due to significant population and economic growth, the Jackson County School System is looking at plans to expand and build new schools to alleviate overcrowding. At a called meeting on Sept. 16, the Jackson County Board of Education unanimously approved the general budget and millage rate for the current fiscal year.Why It’s Newsworthy: Changes made to the budget and millage rate will cause a rise in property taxes for residents of Jackson County.
Despite keeping last year’s millage rate the same, growing property values mean property tax rates will increase in the upcoming year. According to the approved budget, local property taxes account for 40.3% of total revenue for the school system.
“Certainly, we think it’s a good issue to have this growth,” Edward Hooper, JCSS public relations officer, said. “People are moving into Jackson County and wanting to live here, work here and go to school here.”
In a public hearing earlier that week, the board also approved plans to move forward with the construction of a new elementary school, scheduled to open in August 2024. Hooper says this is the third recent addition to the school system, following the newly built Jackson County High School in 2021 and Legacy Knoll Middle School, which he expects to open in August 2023.
The Cause of Growth
According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, the county’s population has increased by nearly 10% since 2019. Hooper says much of this growth has been in the West Jackson area. Documents retrieved through an open records request show that student enrollment numbers share a similar growth pattern, increasing by 20% for schools in West Jackson.
John Scott, Vice President and Director of Economic Development of Jackson County’s Chamber of Commerce, cites the city’s proximity to Atlanta and other large population centers as a major cause of economic growth. Scott states that large employers like SK Battery America bring more jobs and greater investment to the area. Scott also believes that this investment could be used to improve schools.
“The biggest challenge by far is dealing with all of the growth happening all at once,” Scott said. “And that’s definitely something that we see a lot in the schools. They’re overflowing with people. And so you have to build enough schools and grow the schools quick enough to accommodate all the growth.”
Building New Infrastructure
According to Hooper, newly elected Superintendent Philip Brown and other school officials have been working to accommodate the growth and make sure students receive the best possible educational experience.
The new elementary, middle, and high schools will help alleviate crowding in schools like West Jackson Middle School which, according to requested enrollment records, currently has over 1,300 students. Hooper states that a new middle school on the west side will evenly distribute those students across two schools and be a big asset for the community.
“The elementary school — same there. [Students] will be taken from our three Westside elementary schools and in North Jackson, Gum Springs and West Jackson Elementary to form our new elementary school when that opens, hopefully in the fall of 2024,” Hooper said.
Funding this Growth
In order to fund the construction of new schools and other future projects, the BOE voted to keep its millage rate the same as last year at 16.576 mills. According to Hooper, this is, for the second year, the lowest the rate has been in 15 years.
In 2019, the median value of owner-occupied units was $189,700. Over the course of one year, median home value increased by almost 11% to $210,000, further resulting in a 10.7% increase in the yearly property tax homeowners must pay. The set millage rate, paired with growing property values, means a homeowner with a median valued home will pay an additional $3,481 in property taxes to the school.
“We’re accommodating our students and influx in the population and trying to do what’s best for them,” Hooper said. “Taxes are going up. Hopefully [this] would give us more opportunities to provide for our students.”
Isabelle Manders is a senior majoring in journalism and biology, with an emphasis in marine science.
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