On one hand, some board members oppose any budget changes that will affect class sizes and teaching positions. On the other hand, some members favor increasing class sizes and making deeper cuts in teaching positions to balance the budget.
District Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson has presented the board with 18 primary options that include drawing $22.2 million from reserves, taking $10 million lapsed from the previous year’s budget, requiring all employees to take five furlough days, reducing teaching positions by 226, administrative by 24 and central office staff by 12.5 and reducing postage costs by 15 percent. Other more severe options include putting the fee for legal counsel on the table along with foregoing salary increases next year and eliminating media paraprofessionals.
Concern over teachers “doing more with less” has been expressed by board member Kathleen Angelucci, while member David Morgan is worried about using reserves. At a previous board meeting, he said, “my big red flag is when we use one-time money for recurring costs.”
He has suggested cutting high-cost items such as the $10 million salary step increase next year and saving about $6.8 million by cutting kindergarten to half a day, cutting the school week to four days and slashing 295 teaching positions and parapros.
It seems to me there are obvious common sense ideas in the options presented by CFO Johnson. To begin with, reserves are called reserves because that’s what they are — funds to be used when needed in hard times.
That’s why there is a “rainy day” fund for the governor of Georgia. It helped keep things going during the worst of the recession that hit in 2008. Likewise, the Cobb school district has dipped into its reserve fund as a result of the tough economy and consequent drop in tax revenues.
As for class sizes, district Deputy Superintendent Cheryl Hungerford said the administration was considering adding two students per class in middle and high schools and only one more student in the fourth- and fifth-grade classes. How would that be a major problem? Of all the options, this one seems to be the easiest, really a no-brainer.
The real issue regarding classrooms is how many furlough days will be handed out to teachers and how much pay they will lose. It’s problematic, not a desirable option at all, but it is not possible to balance this budget without causing pain to teachers. The silver lining, if there is one, is that many of the cuts in teaching positions will come through attrition.
The alternative to painful cuts is obvious: raising property taxes. And that is not an option, given taxpayer opposition. Balancing the school district budget is a daunting challenge for the board members. But that goes with the job. It’s bullet-biting time for the school board.