Cobb school’s 2013-14 budget to mean furloughs, fewer teachers

10:56 p.m. May 16 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cobb County’s school board approved a 2013-14 budget Thursday night that will result in five furlough days for all employees, the loss of 182 teachers through attrition and a slimmer central administration staff.

Board members debated for more than two hours on whether to amend the budget before deciding to accept it in its original form.

Board chair Randy Scamihorn reminded board members that they could continue to amend the budget throughout the year.

Since March, board members and administrators have been at a crossroads on how to close an $86.4 million budget deficit largely caused by state austerity cuts and reduced local property tax collections.

In order to stave off more severe cuts, the board will pull more than $41 million from its fund balance reserves, a sort of savings account.

The school system will have just 8.33 percent of its money kept in savings, enough to keep the district afloat for one month should an emergency arise.

“That’s too close to the line,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said.

However, several board members see the fund balance reserve as an account to pull from for a rainy day — which is now, they say.

“I think the taxpayers gave us this money to put into the classroom, not to save in a savings account, or be a pot of gold to sit out there to say we’re financially healthy,” board member David Banks said.

Cobb school officials have kept the district debt-free while holding the tax rate steady and maintaining tax exemptions. The district says it has the lowest administrative costs in the region.

But the district has avoided the sort of severe cuts that neighboring school systems have made in recent years by paying recurring costs with savings and leftover sales tax revenue.

The board previously rejected a list of cuts from Hinojosa, who proposed shifting a large portion of high school classes into online courses, eliminating transportation to magnet schools, outsourcing janitor services, and pulling $22.2 million from the school district’s fund balance reserves.

Board members said the list wasn’t creative, didn’t reflect staff and public input, or preserve the learning environment Cobb parents have come to expect.

The school district’s administration predicts the system still would have to cut at least $60 million out of the budget for 2014-15.

In the approved budget, several smaller cuts were made, including reducing the use of postage, requiring direct deposits of paychecks and shifting a large portion of high school classes into online courses.

Only a handful of teachers protested the budget before Thursday night’s vote, which was passed 4-3.

To view the entire list of budget cuts, visit http://www.cobbk12.org/budget/.

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