During Wednesday’s work session, the district was applauded by financial advisors on their “clean” Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, while on the other hand, board members learned about the reduction in staff and increased class sizes they could be facing in the 2012-2013 school year and voted down yet another proposal to make adjustments to next year’s school calendar.
Chief Financial Officer Mike Addison announced Wednesday morning that the district had received a “clean” report by Mauldin and Jenkins of Atlanta for the CAFR pointing out that the fund balance increased by $20.1 million to $99.8 million for FY2011; and that expenditures between FY2009 and FY2011 decreased by $106 million from $932 million to $826 million.
Addison’s good news was short lived though when it came time to update the school board on the deficit that the district will face in FY13.
Shifting gears from the past to the future, as Addison said, he reported to the board that while the deficit he reported in October of nearly $73 million has decreased, the district is now looking at a possible $62.4 million deficit.
“Keep in mind this outlook is certain to change as we receive more accurate projections and information in the coming months,” he said.
The nearly $10 million reduction is due to the enrollment projections and Full Time Equivalent counts finally to be submitted to the state.
During his report, Addison indicated what action may need to be taken by the school board when it approves the budget in July to help ease the deficit if it does not continue to decrease.
He suggested the district increase class size by two, saving $18.6 million; increase the number of furlough days from two to five, saving $14.54 million; reduce the number of school days from 180 to 175, saving transportation $1 million; delay a salary step increase by half a year, saving $5.1 million; eliminate school within a school at the same location, saving $387,000; eliminate 50 media paraprofessionals positions, saving $1.2 million; reduce funding for Project 2400 by half next year and eliminating it in 2014, saving $62,500; and taking about $21.5 million from the $99.8 million fund balance for a total savings of $62.4 million.
“It is important to note that our proposal does include the reduction of the a number of positions, including 350.5 teaching positions. Again, I would like to remind you that it is still extremely early in the budget process. We will continue to examine all the districts revenues and expenditures and keep you informed of changes as they occur,” he concluded.
Cobb Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa referred to Addison’s suggestions as a “hybrid approach.”
“The fund balance is often used for a rainy day and if it’s not raining now, then I don’t know when it’s going to start raining,” he said. “This is an unusual approach but we are recommending that we use money from our fund balance. It will still give us a healthy fund balance but this hybrid approach with dealing with all these reductions is a step that we have to take in order to manage the district and keep our instructional program moving forward.”
Hinojosa pointed out that although Addison said they are looking at a reduction in staff, he doesn’t anticipate any teachers losing their jobs.
“We are confident that we can accomplish this budget without layoffs and without a reduction in force and with attrition and we’ll be tight but our history shows we can handle this through some of the data that we’ve looked at when situations have changed,” he said.
Board members Lynnda Eagle, who represents northeast Cobb, and Alison Bartlett, who represents middle Cobb, both said they would like to see a formal report from the district staff that lays out the vacancies and whether the current openings in the district are due to non-performance or retirement.
“I greatly appreciate that we are moving early and seeing where the impact is,” Bartlett said. “For me, this is a lot to inhale at this moment.”
Members of the teaching associations also had something to say about the possible layoffs.
“The district should do whatever it can to minimize the impact on teachers, and therefore students, and if they want to send a message … they should make the impact of that sacrifice at the top. Shared sacrifice starts at the top,” said John Adams, co-executive director with Educators First.
His co-executive director Tana Page said, “We were at the Legislature (Tuesday) and it is my understanding that they are not in favor of additional RIFs (Reduction In Force). I realize the local (district) makes the decision, I understand that, however, we’re getting a bit of a conflicting view.”
Connie Jackson with the Cobb County Association of Educators said while her group is excited there may not actually be any layoffs because of vacancies, the five furlough days are significant for many employees.
“That’s a fourth of a month’s pay, not to mention losing five instructional days with students. While I was expecting negative budget news, due to initial projections, my hopes is that they can find cuts somewhere else. I realize furloughs are a reality for this coming year but I’d like to see them considerably less than five,” she said.
The district’s proposal to eliminate Project 2400 by 2014, may affect the Cobb Chamber of Commerce as well. The local Chamber manages the program that helps tutor students on their SAT and ACT tests.
According to CEO David Connell, Fred Bentley Jr. works with the program and started it when he was chair of the Chamber.
As far as funding the program, Connell said the chamber’s budget comes from individual companies who want to contribute. If Georgia Power decided to contribute $500 or $100, that is part of the resources that ends up being used for programs like Project 2400.
He could not say if the chamber would be able to make up for lost funds for the program if the district cut the program.
In other business, the board briefly talked about northeast Cobb’s David Banks’ third proposal of the school year to try and get the balanced calendar back before the 2012-13 school year.
The board voted 2-5, with Banks and northwest Cobb’s Lynnda Eagle in favor of the item, to not place the calendar back on the agenda for a vote at the Jan. 26 board meeting.
“I wish this was not a topic but it’s still important to a lot of people,” Eagle said. “I don’t see anything wrong with it coming back up.”
North Cobb’s Kathleen Angelucci, who voted against the calendar being placed back on the agenda and for the balanced calendar last February, said the board has already voted on the calendar for next school year and frustratingly said she didn’t think the topic should keep coming back up.
In other news, board chair Scott Sweeney announced that Larry Savage, who was leading the district’s F&T committee, is stepping down as chair. He is reportedly planning on running for Cobb County Board of Commissioner’s chair position.
The budget report can be found online at www.cobbk12.org.