Following a more than 30 minute discussion, the board voted 6-1, with member Alison Bartlett dissenting, to approve a tentative budget proposed by Superintendent Fred Sanderson.
The budget includes five furlough days for all district staff; a reduction of five school days to the calendar; increasing class sizes to the maximum student-to-teacher ratios; cutting more than 1,000 teachers; and eliminating 100 buses and corresponding routes.
The district is facing a $126.7 million deficit as a result of a reduction in both state and local revenue, chief of finance Mike Addison said. The proposed budget includes a property tax increase of 1.1 mills, to the maximum allowable rate of 20 mills. But Sanderson has also put forth a proposal for the board to immediately vote to reduce the millage rate back to 18.9 mills, which would subsequently free up $23 million in excess funds in SPLOST II to be transferred to the general fund.
The phantom tax hike would not actually raise property taxes, but would reportedly be a legal way for the district to gain more money in its general fund for the FY 11 budget, which begins July 1.
Following the meeting, Bartlett said she opposed the superintendent's budget because it was set at the maximum millage rate.
"My understanding in February was that we were going to get a budget that was balanced on the current millage rate. I didn't agree to an increase in property taxes," Bartlett said.
Sanderson said the board's approval for the budget was necessary to advertise plans to the public. The district will display its budget on its official website and each individual school website. A one-page summary of the budget will also be advertised in the Journal, and a booklet will be available in the county's public libraries.
Also during the board's budget discussion, Bartlett asked the superintendent and the associate superintendent of leadership and learning, Dr. Steven Constantino, if there was a cap on class sizes. Constantino said that while it was hard to pinpoint that maximum number at this point, he has looked at preliminary numbers from several high schools and that early projections of 40 students per teacher are too large.
For the sake of clarification, Dr. John Crooks, the board's budget liaison, pointed out that the budget included the new 175-school day calendar that Sanderson presented to the board at its last budget meeting on May 4. In what would be a major change in how Cobb students have attended school, Sanderson's 2010-2011 calendar would push the school year start date back to Aug. 5, instead of Aug. 2, and move the last day from May 27, 2011, to May 25, 2011.
While the board was in its meeting on Wednesday afternoon, more than 100 students from Osborne High School walked out in protest of teacher cuts at the school.
According to district spokesman Jay Dillon, the protest began at 1:45 p.m. and lasted about an hour.
"We're just pleased that students were respectful and they were allowed to make their point, and they dispersed after about 45 minutes to an hour," Dillon said.
Bartlett, whose Post 7 includes Osborne, said that she heard one student set off a firecracker and was detained by police for his actions. Despite this, she said she thought the students did a good job of showing their dissatisfaction.
"I am proud that our students are understanding the impact of these budget times to their education," she said.