“This is not a list as a board member that I have to buy in with,” said Board Chair Randy Scamihorn, who represents northwest Cobb.
The board met for almost four hours Wednesday to debate how to cover an $86.4 million shortfall in the 2014 budget.
Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson presented 13 options to the group last month, but there was not an in-depth discussion.
“The board will have to confront this someday, somehow, because there’s just no new revenue coming in … it’s very difficult,” he said.
Some recommended cuts included using $22.2 million from the district’s reserve fund, introducing more online classes and saving $15.5 million by implementing five furlough days and eliminating five instructional days.
The board was not pleased with his recommendations, and they asked Johnson and his staff to be more creative with finding places to cut by talking to all the department heads.
“It just is not acceptable,” north Cobb’s Kathleen Angelucci said. “There has to be something else that we can do.”
Scamihorn asked that they look at things like travel expenses, suspending staff training for a year, benchmark testing or whether or not they need to purchase textbooks every single year.
“I don’t see input from the entire staff in this budget,” he said. “Be more creative on our options.”
David Banks, who represents northeast Cobb, said they need to be more “firmly focused” on the classroom in looking at budget cuts.
Vice Chair Brad Wheeler agreed.
“There are a lot of little things we can probably bundle together to be the big things,” he said.
Board member Scott Sweeney, who represents east Cobb, took issue with that.
“We are trying to create certainty in an uncertain world,” he said.
Sweeney said the reserve fund can’t be a shock absorber and that the budget forecasts do and will continue to look worse and worse every year.
“We have to figure out 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,” Sweeney said. “Public education funding is under assault.”
David Morgan, who represents southwest Cobb, recommended the district get more feedback from the public in some form or fashion and say what alternatives there are if certain cuts aren’t made.
“We need to do a better job of explaining this,” he said. “Lay out the solutions, the silver bullets. Give me some proof positive.”
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said some alternatives could include increasing the millage rate, dipping further into reserves, running out of money or looking at massive layoffs the following school year.
He said he’d bring back more recommendations in two weeks when the board meets for its monthly work session on April 17.
The board also decided to submit any further questions about specific cuts to the administrative staff, in writing.
“The clocks are ticking … submit your questions as soon as possible,” Hinojosa said.
A little good news
Johnson said the district has received $8.8 million in state funding over what it had anticipated for their full-time student enrollment numbers from fiscal 2013, and that can be put toward any of the proposed cuts.
Hinojosa also told the board that he would be removing his recommended cut to do away with bus services for magnet schools and the Boys and Girls Club, which would have saved the district $1 million next school year.
Angelucci said that of all the cuts proposed, this was the only one she received any complaints about since the initial budget meeting.
“We talk about how important it is to educate our students to the best of our ability,” she said. “If that were to be cut, it would be annihilating programs that we are recognized for … goes against what we are here for.”
Johnson anticipates the board approving the final budget sometime in mid-May, but the state doesn’t require approval until June 30.