Nearly a third of the Cobb School Board’s nine-hour meeting on Wednesday was dedicated to talking about next year’s budget and how to resolve an $86.4 million deficit.
The fiscal year 2014 budget must be approved by the board no later than June 30, according to state law. The district’s chief financial officer has the board on tap to adopt a tentative budget on April 25 and the official budget on May 16.
At the board’s budget meeting before spring break, members asked CFO Brad Johnson and his staff to bring them more options.
His initial proposal included 13 options, and the recommendation brought before them Wednesday had 18 definite ideas for cuts, along with 32 other possibilities, if needed.
The 18 definites included drawing $22.2 million from the district’s reserves; considering $10 million in lapse from the previous year’s balance; five furlough days for all employees; reducing teaching positions by 226, administrative by 24 and central office by 12.5; and decreasing postage use by 15 percent.
Some of what Johnson referred to as “below the line” options, which were quite extreme, include Cobb examining its legal fee budget; not allowing for a salary increase next year; eliminating art and music programs; or getting rid of all media paraprofessionals.
Johnson also spoke to the items his staff and the Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s cabinet decided to remove from the original list altogether.
They decided not to get rid of magnet school and Boys and Girls Club bus services, not increase the distance to which high school students would be picked up by bus or outsource custodial services.
Chris Ragsdale, deputy superintendent of operations, said they chose not to outsource janitorial services because it would have too much of an impact on employees.
North Cobb’s Kathleen Angelucci said she agreed with the janitors not being cut for more than financial reasons.
“It’s not just about the money,” she said. “They form relationships with children … there’s also a safety aspect of it.”
There was some concern by the board at its last meeting that the extensive background checks in place for Cobb Schools employees might not be enforced for an out-of-district custodial agency.
Johnson’s staff also changed some of the numbers they recommended in position cuts.
Teacher reductions dropped from 295 to 226, and administrators from 34 to 24. Central office personnel cuts increased from 7.5 to 12.5 and the number of teachers participating in the district’s online learning program from 66 to 132.
Some still question the budget recommendations
After making his presentation, Johnson accepted questions, recommendations and changes from the board.
David Banks, who represents northeast Cobb, presented a budget that he created on his own.
“The taxpayers gave us this money to use in the classroom, not sit in the bank,” he said. “My budget has no cuts in jobs … we’re balancing the budget on the personnel, on our teachers.”
Banks has been passionate about keeping all funding in the classroom if possible and has questioned all along why the district hasn’t used more money from its reserves, which sits around $100 million.
District policy requires that the reserves contain at least one month’s operations costs, or about $71 million.
Banks’ budget included the district’s giving employees back a half-step salary increase, keeping administrators and adding 200 part-time teachers for about $5 million.
“The budget is fictional numbers … guesses,” he said to his colleagues.
Board Chair Randy Scamihorn, who represents northwest Cobb, asked Banks if he thought Johnson’s numbers were wrong, to which he replied that he thought they were “way overstated.”
Scamihorn also asked for an explanation from Banks about the potential classroom size increase of 10 that he put on the table.
“I hesitate to concur with a number like that,” Scamihorn said.
The question of class size was also a concern by Angelucci.
She submitted a list of 10 specific questions to Johnson, Hinojosa and the board during the meeting, and one specifically addressed exactly how many extra students would be added at each grade level.
Deputy Superintendent Cheryl Hungerford said they were looking at two for middle and high schools and one for fourth- and fifth-grade classes.
Angelucci was persistent in the district considering the classroom in their budget proposals.
“I want us to think about the climate that our employees are working under … doing more with less,” she said. “We’ve got to put a face to this and at the end of the day see how this impacts our kids.”
Other board members caution of what it could mean for future
Other board members were cautious about only protecting the classroom and more on board with considering the district’s budget in long term.
“None of this is easy, all of these are very difficult and challenging decisions, but my big red flag is when we use one-time money for recurring costs,” said David Morgan in southwest Cobb.
Scott Sweeney, who represents east Cobb, agreed.
“We have to be extremely cautious about the expenditures of one-time money,” he said. “Until we have any confidence in the economy and the economy demonstrates that it’s growing ... we do not have any assurance that we are on an upward path.”
Sweeney also warned the board about drawing too much money from its reserve account.
“If we start dipping into this piggy bank, the pot of gold as its been referenced to on a regular basis, eventually it’s not there, and we have a responsibility to maintain a fund balance,” he said.
The board will hold its next budget meeting on Monday at 2 p.m. in the central office boardroom, 514 Glover St. in Marietta.
For more information about the budget, visit Cobb Schools at cobbk12.org. There is also a section for public comments.