School board hears new proposals for dealing with deficit
by Lindsay Field
April 18, 2013 12:36 AM | 7611 views | 19 19 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
File photo of Cobb County School Board member David Banks <br> (MDJ Staff/Laura Moon)
File photo of Cobb County School Board member David Banks
(MDJ Staff/Laura Moon)
slideshow

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.

 

Comments
(19)
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Teacher13 years
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April 21, 2013
How can Cobb offer contracts to Area Superintendents (which is a fiscally irresponsible move) before its teachers, when the Area Assistants are USELESS to the students and staff? They have overly inflated salaries and need to go! The Central Office should also close over the summer until 2 weeks prior to pre-planning.
The Duke
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April 21, 2013
Let the walrus go and bring Mrs.Hall from Atlanta in!!! She will work for less money and also make sure the kids pass the CRCT!!!!!
Be Careful
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April 20, 2013
Dear "Cobbcitizen",

The answer is NOT raise taxes.

The answer is to learn to live within the budget and not depend on SPLOST money.

What happens if you raise the rate to the max and the budget is still short??

It's not fair that the citizens of this county pay (with MORE taxes) for financial mismanagement by the school board.
Cobbcitizen
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April 19, 2013
Probably time to think about raising the millage rate, and end tax exemption for senior citizens that would take care of the budget crisis. Time for us all to chip in!
@ Cobbcitizen
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April 19, 2013
Max millage in Georgia for school tax is 20.0. Cobb is at 18.9.

1.1 mills equates to roughly $20 million today, hardly enough to address the full budget shortfall.

The school board has no control over the senior school tax exemption.
anonymous
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April 20, 2013
How about fixing the Georgia law that redistributes Cobb money away from Cobb and into far-flung GA districts? Maybe the figures are antiquated, based on when Cobb was a wealthy bedroom community. Now we have how many title ten schools? Just a thought.
Bennin Jerris
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April 19, 2013
They have been robbing Peter to pay Paul with the SPLOST loophole for three years and the trough is empty. I heard some Board members saying that they needed to maeke cuts the ast two years, but that pot of SPLOST money was the bandaid excuse they needed to fix things. And why did they givce back a furlough day when they knew this is where they were headed? Use some business sense folks and hold the Principals accountable for their staff and budgets. Scrutinize every purchase, and while you are at it, start getting rid of staff that constantly maxes out their sick pay every year! If they don't want to come to work, you don't need them.
anonymous
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April 20, 2013
How about getting rid of some of the paperwork? I know it's miniscule in the budget but every little bit counts. I have four kids and they all bring home the same announcements! All I do is throw away paper. It must cost millions. When I was young, just the oldest and only got certain school announcements.
leave alone
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April 19, 2013
Retire some of the old teachers
funny mr. banks
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April 18, 2013
SO amusing that Banks now thinks he is a financial guru, and that no one seems to take him seriously. There are other ways to trim this budget, get rid of layers of mgt. at the central office, look at ESOL programs, free lunches, special services for the few. Rent out the theatres, stadiums built by SPLOST dollars, charge a transportation fee for those who ride the buses, better yet, don't run buses with only 5 people on them. But Mr. Banks, you scare most of us with your ideas.
A. Finch
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April 18, 2013
The inevitability(because of and ever widening budget gap and savings in the millions with regard to benefits) of having to out source custodial services looms as a future reality. Other school systems have already succeded in making the transition(i.e. the city of Marietta, reference Mrs. Lembeck, Superintendent) and have also realized that student safety was a priority. The contract cleaners would be on site well after the close of the school day and are bonded by the employer for any theft or damage. Dr. Hinojosa and Mr. Ragsdale have not approached this proposal frivilously. They are looking at the Bottom line and the "on going crisis with deficits, facing Cobb schools. Perhaps, a presen-tation(before the board by one of the out source candidates, would relieve the anxiety of many of the board members.
GTech
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April 18, 2013
Contract cleaners constantly rotate staff, the issue of student safety is that you have a custodial staff that has been in place at the school most times longer than the principal. They are a welcoming face in the morning and evenings as the kids leave. They usually alert school administrators to abnormal activity because they have a vested interest in the school. Also look at the numbers, cutting below 100 people and replacing them with multiple contractors is not going to save money. Constantly going over contracts, replacing those that don't live up to the obligation and finding a replacement in the end costs more.
Dwayne Schneider
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April 18, 2013
Praytell Mr. Finch, when would you be available for your company's "presen-tation" to the board?
B.Mont
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April 18, 2013
A. Finch you must not know what all a custodian does! Let me first say I have been in the system for 22 years as a custodian. I take my job very serious, I am there for the children to have a clean and safe environment to learn in. The children know me by name and I know them by name. They know that if they need something or something is wrong that I am here for them. I also setup and clean up for events whether it is on a weekday or weekend, I also work over time without being paid time and a half because they county says we have to take comp time. I can't begin to tell you how many days I have worked and not taken a break or lunch to have the school ready for the children! I treat my school like its my home, I take pride in my job even though its not glamorous. Do you really think someone else that is not there everyday will take care of these schools like we take care of them? I think not! I have used contract services when the school has been short handed and let me tell you if you are not bi lingual you can not communicate with most of them. And the last ones that I used did not do a good job at all, I call the company and told him that I did not want them back, if they could not pull trash and dust mop properly then why have them here. Oh and by the way they only spoke English. Why don't you hire the contract services to clean your house and business for a year then get back to me on how well they did. One more question have you been in the schools that have contract services and looked around? I would say that's a NO!
Be Careful
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April 18, 2013
Cutting 226 teachers and 12 central office staff?

Shouldn't that be the other way around?

And for all of you who voted for SPLOST...

Millions of dollars for new facilities that the district can't afford to maintain or operate after they're built cause there's no money in the budget.

Just Sayin'....
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April 18, 2013
Angelucci....get with the program! It is okay to cut 226 teaching positions but not look at outsourcing the janitorial staffs????? Really????

It is time to look at things objectively, not because they give you the warm fuzzies. Please, will this CCSB step up to the plate.
Stop the madness
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April 18, 2013
How about closing the entire county offices and schools from June 30th - July 15th? How about going to a 4 day school week? How about getting rid of area superintendents and their staff? How about getting rid of the vacation payouts? How about advertising on buses?
Stinky Pete
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April 18, 2013
Lost on many is this little gem in the article:

"...and the number of teachers participating in the district’s online learning program from 66 to 132."

This is a dirty little trick to decrease teachers as well. Buy a lesson that can be streamed online over and over again to an infinite number of students forever and youm don't have to pay a teacher a salary or benefits. Before you mess your pants with excitement do the research on how unsuccessful these programs are at the college level...forget about high or middle school! These programs require VERY motivated students and can rarely replace a middle school teacher for advantaged students and NEVER replace a teacher for disadvantaged students in our at-risk title schools. I'm talking to you area 2 board members and area superintendents!!!
LB Armstrong
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April 20, 2013
My daughter took online courses in order to finish her high school requirements. The teachers would not get back to her when she made inquiries. They would not get back to me when I made inquiries. It was like there was NO teacher. The course was English and all they had to do the entire semester was their resume. When it came time for the final exam, they were expected to contrast and compare real literature, which they had not learned anything about. But my daughter got to know all the other "students' in the online class, i.e. all the baby mamas who could not attend real high school. Online learning has a LONG way to go. OH, and we looked up the teacher and she just happened to be "so happy" on her facebook page that she could now "stay home with her children" and "teach" online classes. Hubby happened to be a coach...what could that mean? Did I mention we had to pay quite a bit of money for this service? What a joke.
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