That was how Cobb school board member David Morgan described what he wants in order to plug an $86.4 million budget hole. It sounds like wishful thinking, as did comments by some other board members at their four-hour Wednesday meeting, although Morgan made a good point about getting feedback from the public on possible cuts.
The board didn’t like the choices that were presented last month by district Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson. The 13 options included drawing $22.2 million from the reserve fund, cutting 295 teaching positions (through attrition), saving $16 million by moving more high school courses online, saving $15.5 million through a combination of five furlough days and elimination of five instructional days, outsourcing janitorial services, and eliminating cost-of-living pay increases to district employees.
The choice of words by the board members showed just how badly flawed they viewed the CFO’s options. Kathleen Angelucci said, “It just is not acceptable.” Chairman Randy Scamihorn said, “This is not a list as a board member that I have buy-in with.” Vice-chairman Brad Wheeler offered this idea for cuts: “There are a lot of little things we can probably bundle together to be the big things.” David Banks said, “This board needs to be firmly focused on the classroom,” presumably as opposed to non-classroom expenditures.
But member Scott Sweeney got to the meat of the problem. He said, “We have to figure our how we are going to essentially deliver the level of education that is expected in this county with the flat revenue stream or develop another revenue model.” He also said, “Public education funding is under assault,” which could be taken to mean taxpayers resist paying higher taxes.
As for higher taxes, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa put that issue on the table, saying options could include increasing the property tax, taking more from the reserve fund or implementing massive layoffs. He said he would have more recommendations at the board’s work session April 17.
Board members seemed to think CFO Johnson is some sort of a financial magician, able to find ways to balance the budget without major pain. But he laid it out clearly: “The board will have to confront this someday, somehow, because there’s just no new revenue coming in.”
Obviously, nobody wants to cut any essential instructional programs. This comes down to the question of how to maintain a high quality of academics while making cuts and taking other steps that will pare the spending down enough to balance the budget. Unlike the federal government, the Cobb district cannot try to borrow itself out of the red or print money.
David Morgan talks about “silver bullets,” which, incidentally, derives from the choice of weapon for killing werewolves, not an altogether far-fetched figure considering the monstrous budget deficit. But it is far-fetched to think there are any magical silver bullets to fix this problem.
Instead, the school board is going to have to bite the bullet and make substantial cuts in spending.