It also passed a tentative budget that could include 300 or even 400 new teachers next year.
During a scheduled meeting, the board confirmed what it announced two weeks earlier in naming Ragsdale the sole finalist for the job. The 14-day waiting period is required by state law.
Ragsdale, formerly the deputy superintendent of operations, said he’s ready to get off to a running start on May 1.
“We’re going to take a look at everything,” Ragsdale said. He added that he hopes the district’s revenues continue to improve.
“Staff morale is particularly in need of a boost,” he said.
Ragsdale, 45, was selected from among seven candidates to fill the role after Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced in February he was resigning effective May 31 to move back home to Dallas, Texas.
“His decision making is very logical,” Randy Scamihorn, the board’s vice chairman, said of Ragsdale.
“He has a grasp of the issues and is very ‘parent oriented.’ It’s my belief that all the candidates had strong points, but overall Chris is the right person at this time.”
Hinojosa and Ragsdale will work together during the month of May as the superintendent job transitions between the two. Ragsdale’s term will run from May 2014 to May 2015. Whether he will stay on beyond that point remains to be seen.
With the promotion, Ragsdale’s pay will jump from $135,000 to $185,000. Hinojosa’s base pay was $247,625.
The school board also accepted the retirements of Frey Elementary Principal Joyce Piket and Clarksdale Elementary Principal Marjorie Bickerstaff Thursday.
Scamihorn said he knows Piket because she was principal when two of his grandsons attended Frey.
“It saddens me to see another good one go,” said Scamihorn.
Tentative budget adopted
Next year’s budget got the school board talking thanks to one big piece of news — it’s going up.
After years of cuts during the Great Recession, Hinojosa was projecting an almost $80 million deficit when the school year started. But thanks to more funds both at both the state and local level, that deficit is gone.
Next year’s budget will be about $899 million. Passed by a 7-0 vote, the tentative budget includes no furlough days, a 180-day school year and potentially 300 new teacher hires.
During the recession, the district cut the pay of all employees by 2 percent. The proposed budget restores half of that cut.
“These are significant improvements,” said Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson.
The school board already met twice on April 14 and 16 to talk about the budget. At first, it eyed 193 new teachers, but has since felt safe going to 300.
But one school board member wants to push the number even higher.
The budget includes $95 million in what’s called “unreserved” funds, which is loosely akin to a savings account.
Scott Sweeney, in the middle of a heated re-election challenge from Kevin Nicholas, said he thinks the district can take another $7.5 million out of savings and hire 400 new teachers.
“I think we can afford 400 easily,” he said, citing the impact it would have on class sizes. “I know we can afford this.”
Other board members, such as Scamihorn, said they weren’t comfortable making such a big jump just yet and would rather wait until next year to see how the numbers play out.
Nicholas, vice president of a telecommunications company and father of three Cobb school students, also said he prefers 300 to 400 new teacher hires.
Nicholas pointed out that $40 million in state funds are an election-year boost that might not be around next year.
“We need to be careful of being reckless with new funds,” said Nicholas.
A new elementary school?
The proposed budget also includes a $5 million earmark that could go toward construction of a new elementary school, though no decision has been made whether that will happen or what school it could be.
Mableton resident David Berny spoke during public comment pushing for the replacement of Harmony-Leland Elementary. But school board member David Banks said in an interview that Powers Ferry Elementary, a school in his district, is just as old and could use replacing itself. Both schools were built in 1951.
Another possible expense is hiring up to 11 new school resource officers next year, enough to have one at every middle school in the county in addition to every high school. The additional officers, including new police cars, could cost around $900,000.
Again, Scamihorn had reservations.
“I’m sympathetic but concerned about spending our money too quickly,” he said.
“It’s a different day and age,” he said, making the case the officers are needed.
The tentative budget isn’t official yet. The board will talk it over and pass a final budget next month.