The school board will approve the FY13 budget on May 17. For now, it includes cutting 350 staff positions; increasing class sizes by two students and the number of furlough days from two to five; reducing the number of work days from 180 to 175; delaying raises for half a year; eliminating 50 library positions; reducing, and eventually eliminating, funding for Project 2400; and taking $21.5 million from the $99 million in reserves.
On Wednesday, Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa announced that the district could avoid layoffs if 350 employees leave the district by retiring, moving or resigning, but they are currently about 200 short of that number.
There are 14,127 employees in the school system, not counting the seven school board members.
“Our resignations are not hitting the pace that we had intended for it to hit by this time,” he said. The district should know by the first week in May how many of the 350 won’t be returning next year.
The other biggest issues teachers are facing are the possibility of more furlough days, which Chief Financial Officer Mike Addison said could save the district $15.3 million, or about $3 million per day, and increasing classroom sizes, which could save $18.6 million.
According to the 2012-2013 school calendar, teachers would take furlough days Feb. 19 through 22 and May 30, 2013.
Board Member Lynnda Eagle, a former educator who has represented northwest Cobb since 2008, said she doesn’t think there is any real way to “fix” the budget deficit because fewer funds are coming in.
“If you compare CCSD to similar districts around Atlanta, it is evident that we are one of the more lean districts,” she said. “Our administrators make less than most metro districts, we have a smaller central office staff than most, we have provided school nurses before they were partially funded by other sources, we have highly qualified teachers dedicated to our students and we’ve done this and more with a much smaller budget than many of our neighboring districts.”
Eagle said she doesn’t support five furlough days, but would consider two or three, and has asked that the district think twice about reducing the number of media parapros and increasing class sizes.
“I am concerned that we are looking to our teachers to help reduce the budget,” she said.
Central Cobb’s board member Alison Bartlett believes that the district can get its “biggest bang for their bucks” by increasing the student to teacher ratio.
Bartlett said cutting jobs is tough, but the economic situation demands hard decisions.
“Their jobs are valuable, but where does the $60 million come from if not there?” she asked. “When I was first elected (in 2008), the budget was $1 billion. We’ve lost close to $200 million in general fund revenue since I was first elected.”
Board member Tim Stultz, who represents southeast Cobb, said the budget problems won’t end anytime soon.
“I have been advocating for hiring freezes for the past two years to help with the increasing expenses, especially with more difficult times ahead,” he said. “I don’t believe revenues are going to rise enough over the next few years to offset expenses.”
Stultz believes more severe cuts are yet to come.
“This current model is not sustainable. The new reality is that property values are lower and that the state can’t provide full funding,” he said. “The solution is to change the model of how to provide quality education, or continue to make cuts until your expenses are equal to your income.”
Vice Chair David Morgan, who represents southwest Cobb, thinks the answer could be to give individual schools the authority to make cuts where needed.
“At a particular school, there may be a bigger need for media parapros than for other positions,” he said. “I wish that people on the school level could make those decisions. I think also it’s a way to create even more ownership on that level as opposed to these mandates coming down from central office.”
Morgan said he’s put his proposal in writing to Hinojosa in recent weeks and said the superintendent told him that he would get back to him if his staff thought it would help.
But northwest Cobb’s David Banks doesn’t believe they are needed at all and has previously asked why the district doesn’t dip into its $99 million reserve to cover the deficit.
However, Addison said that, according to board policy, at least one month of expenses, about $70 million, must remain in the reserves at all times.
John Adams, the executive director of Educators First, said his members are anxious over the possibility of possible layoffs, fewer workdays and bigger class sizes.
“Everyone was laboring on the assumption that there wouldn’t be (layoffs),” he said. “Frankly, they don’t have a lot of faith in the board and central office’s ability to keep teachers from being cut.”
“They get that there need to be cuts, but this is a year that started off with pay raises in the central office,” Adams pointed out.
Adams suggested school board members cut their $20,800 salary equivalent to the number of furlough days and tell employees that they won’t approve any new pay raises or new positions at the central office while furlough days or pay cuts are a possibility.
“Share the sacrifice by absorbing the mathematical equivalent for their pay, or at the very least give it to the Cobb Schools Foundation to show that they feel the pain too,” he said. “That will help restore teachers’ trust.”
Since Monday, he’s received about 15 emails and phone calls from members asking about the budget.
But Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said her phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Wednesday.
“I have received over 100 phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages since the announcement of the possible (layoffs),” she said.
Jackson said they are very upset and anxious about how the cuts will be made.
“We want to encourage the district to not make the cuts based on seniority, but rather on performance,” she said. “That way you don’t lose some of your brightest and youngest teachers.”
Jackson is also asking any employees who plan on leaving to let them know as soon as possible.
“If you aren’t coming back, please say it now, because you could save a teacher’s job,” she said.
Also, she said that if cuts were up to her, she’d look to non-SPLOST items.
“I think things should be looked at like new buses … (and) textbooks cuts,” she said. “Those are better than classroom teachers who impact student achievement. Don’t cut the front end before you cut the back.”