By John Sharp
The Hickman Mills Board of Education voted 6-0 on May 18 to put a no tax increase bond issue and an increase in its operating property tax levy to pay for raising the salaries of teachers and other district staff on the August 2 ballot.
The main focus of the $20 million general obligation bond issue will be to finance either a second middle school or a 6th grade center to alleviate severe overcrowding at Smith-Hale Middle School, 9010A Old Santa Rd., according to Board President DaRon McGee.
The levy increase, McGee said, is necessary to attract and retain the brightest and best teachers and other district employees.
A fact sheet prepared by the District shows Hickman Mills currently ranks 11th out of 12 surrounding metropolitan area districts in both starting teacher salaries and salaries for teachers with a master’s degree.
The proposed levy increase will put Hickman Mills’ salaries at the top of these salary comparisons until other districts raise their salaries.
“We want to be the employer of choice in the area,” said Yaw Obeng, District superintendent.
Obeng said Hickman Mills has been able to attract really good new teachers, but after the District has invested time and money in honing their classroom skills and they have gained teaching experience they often transfer to other districts with much better salary schedules and sometimes have been able to get salaries that are $10,000 or more higher.
“We can’t afford to keep being the training ground for other districts,” Obeng said. He noted in recent years the District has experienced around 25% staff turnover annually, although that decreased to about 16% after teacher and paraprofessional salaries were recently raised.
McGee said maintaining strong public schools is vital to maintaining a stable and vibrant community. He said as the District is recognized for providing a first class education, parents of school aged children will be more likely to move into the district and buy and fix up vacant homes.
Increasing enrollment also will assure the District doesn’t have to close schools which can become blighting influences on surrounding neighborhoods, McGee said.
The fact sheet said the proposed levy increase of $1.35 per $100 of assessed valuation would result in an annual property tax increase of $256.50 on a $100,000 home.
Residential property is assessed for tax purposes at 19% of fair market value, so multiplying $100,000 by 19% results in $19,000. Dividing that by $100 results in $190, and multiplying that by $1.35 results in the $256.50 annual increase.