The group has pushed back the approval date for its tentative fiscal year 2014 budget from Thursday night to April 29.
The board met for nearly four hours Monday afternoon to debate a list of 50 possible recommendations — 18 that are definite options to fix the budget woes and the other 32 that are ideas for the board to consider.
Four of the members — Brad Wheeler, Randy Scamihorn, David Banks and Kathleen Angelucci — were adamant the budget changes not impact classroom size and teaching positions.
“As a board, we need to make decisions that are directed at the kids,” Wheeler said.
He recommended the district look at specific budget cuts like dipping further into the reserves, halting staff development and travel and moving central office personnel back into the schools.
“If you aren’t in the classroom, you’re vulnerable,” Wheeler said.
Scamihorn agreed but added more possibilities.
He suggested decreasing the recommended teaching position cuts from 226 to 195, increasing the administrative cuts from 24 to 34 and increasing personnel cuts in the central office from 12.5 to 16.
“That doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with the other (budget resolutions), but I’m trying to move forward here,” Scamihorn said.
On the other end of the spectrum were Scott Sweeney and David Morgan, who continue to ask the board to keep its eye on the district’s future.
“In good conscience, I can’t vote for a budget that is kicking the can down the road,” Morgan said. “We would be well served to look at items that aren’t one-time fixes.”
His recommendations to resolve the current and future budgets were to cut high-cost items, such as the salary step increase valued at $10 million, and saving the district about $6.8 million by looking at half-day kindergarten, a four-day school week and cutting 295 teaching positions and media paraprofessionals.
“I think our teachers, our taxpayers, all stakeholders, they deserve for us not only to make the hard decisions now but also project forward so that we can put ourselves in the best position possible in these very trying times,” he said.
Angelucci said she understood what Morgan was saying but indicated that nothing “out there” shows that the financial status of the country will continue as it has in recent years.
“We need to consider how it affects teachers in the long term. … Look at the bigger picture,” she said.
“But we need to deal with what is, not what will be,” Morgan responded.
Sweeney also said that until the district has “confidence in the numbers,” they should be “exceptionally” cautious.
An individual budget proposal
For the second time during this year’s budget talks, Banks presented his own version of the budget.
“Working on the budget is a trying experience,” he said before giving his line-by-line explanation of how he created the budget, which he developed alone and presented to the board Monday afternoon.
According to the budget Banks presented, the district would bring in about $823.4 million revenues for fiscal year 2014 and spend about $862.6 million, leaving a $39.2 million shortfall.
Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson’s staff has estimated the district will bring in about $807.6 million in revenue and spend $894 million.
Banks’ budget also listed nine solutions to fix the deficit, including using a total of $24.7 million from the reserves, imposing five furlough days, eliminating five instructional days and adding 200 part-time employees.
Angelucci thanked Banks for his efforts.
“I want to thank Mr. Banks for trying to look at this in a different way,” she said. “I think that his aim is true, he’s trying to save teachers’ jobs ... because that affects our students in the classroom.”
Board members asked questions about Banks’ suggestions, but Johnson spent the most time trying to understand it.
“I don’t agree with this proposal. There is at least $20 million missing (from his budget figures),” Johnson said. “I have grave concerns about these numbers. I appeal to the board.”
Johnson also said that it’s hard to budget on the previous year’s budget like Banks has. He used numbers from the fiscal year 2012 financial report.
“Every year is in its own universe,” he said. “If I budget on last year … I might miss something.”
Johnson also said a number of times that the deficit continues to be $86.4 million, and while he thought Banks had some good comments, he warned the board to be careful.
Scamihorn said he agreed with Johnson’s worries and said he didn’t mean to challenge the chief financial officer’s department, but “sometimes the new guy can bring forward good ideas as well.”
Public response to possible cuts
Another topic the board talked about was in response to the numerous phone calls and emails they have received regarding what is being referred to as a “below the line” item, which has been defined as an idea but not an actual proposal for FY14.
Among Johnson’s 50 suggestions is a line item that cuts elementary through high school arts and music programs. This could save the district about $23.6 million in total.
“We did say that nothing is off the table. … This stimulated an outcry because in Cobb County, it’s something we would never touch,” Angelucci said.
She also asked why arts would be on the budget resolutions but not athletics, and Hinojosa said he would bring back the cost of potential athletics savings at the next budget meeting.
Scamihorn said he received that same number of emails and phone calls, but said there was a good reason for such an extensive list from the district.
“The intent was to have a laundry list to give us and the public choices,” he said.