The tentative budget will come up for a formal vote in three weeks. It was cobbled together by Board Chair Randy Scamihorn with support from board members David Banks, Brad Wheeler and Kathleen Angelucci. The group has worked to minimize the impact of the cuts on teachers and classroom sizes as much as possible.
Scamihorn’s revisions included reducing the number of cuts to in-school teaching positions from 195 to 182 while cutting the number of online teachers from 66 to 13. They recalculated the tax digest to reflect no growth, giving the district an extra $3.5 million to play with, and restored the number of teachers overseeing students serving in-school suspensions to 41 and bringing 26 part-time workers back into the classrooms.
Scamihorn presented his recommendations to Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson in an email Monday morning.
In total, the group led by Scamihorn came up with 20 options to resolve the budget shortfall.
One key point was to draw $22.2 million from the district’s large reserves account, which currently stands at more than $100 million.
Not everyone was on board with Scamihorn’s recommendations.
Tim Stultz, Scott Sweeney and David Morgan urged their colleagues to think more about the district’s financial future and to make bigger, harder cuts now.
Stultz said the lack of cutting was “insulting.”
One area Stultz said he did not want to cut, however, was that of online teachers. An online teacher’s salary costs the district about half that of an in-school teacher.
“This really puts a dent in what we’re trying to accomplish,” Stultz said. “We need to look beyond just trying to budget this year’s budget.
“This is honestly the first time anything long term has been brought to the table as far as being able to make some longer term cuts and still be able to provide the good quality education here in Cobb County,” Stultz said. “I do have some serious concerns about going down from the 66 to the 13 (online teachers).”
Morgan asked Johnson what type of deficit the district is looking at for the next school year, to which he got a response of more than $80 million.
“We are just putting a Band-Aid on something and hoping something happens down the line when the last two or three years, it’s proven that there’s a new normal in place and what’s currently being proposed, I can’t reconcile in me to say that this is the best route for us to go as a school district, knowing that a potential $80-plus million will be staring us in the face when we sit down and have these conversations next school year,” he said.
The supporters responded
“We just keep hoping year after year but the (online classroom) concept is just a hope,” Angelucci said. “We’ve got nothing in the way of real numbers to prove that it will do what they say it will do, and I can’t with a clear conscience … increase that to something when we’re talking about an $86.4 million deficit.”
She also said she understood the need to look ahead, but it’s their duty as a board to “drill down” and look at every budget item line-by-line.
“I think that budgets have been presented to boards in the past and it’s always come out with cut teachers, increase class sizes, furlough days, no step increases and the board just says, ‘OK, that’s what we’ll do,’ instead of drilling down in all the nooks and crannies,” Angelucci said. “It’s a difficult job and a big job, but at the end of the day, it’s something we’re going to have to do.”
She said a majority of the emails she’s received since the budget discussions were started, involved parents who were concerned about the possibility of increased class sizes.
“We can’t continue to stuff children in classrooms and expect real instruction to take place,” she said. “We can’t continue to keep doing what we’ve been doing to our teachers. At some point that has to stop because if we want to continue to get the caliber of teachers that we currently have, then we need to give them the respect of diving into this.”
She accepted the budget with some hesitations, though, saying she is still concerned with the five furlough days being used on instructional days.
“I’m having real heartburn with that,” she said.
The tentative budget can still be tweaked in the meantime, and a final budget is scheduled to be approved May 16.
Before then, the board will have opportunities to have more in-depth conversations during their May 8 work session and to get feedback from the public at a May 14 hearing.
More details about the proposed tentative budget can be found on the district’s website at cobbk12.org.
Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said after the meeting that he does worry about some of the nuances in Scamihorn’s revised budget.
“I was hoping we could move forward with expanding our (online) learning,” he said. “That was one way we could start looking at reducing costs over time, but by only having a few dollars to do that, we won’t be able to gauge on that.”
The program will cost nearly $1 million to implement next school year if the 13 teaching positions are approved in the final budget.
Hinojosa also addressed Angelucci’s and Banks’ concerns about the impact on the classroom and the board’s passion in salvaging that.
“No one wants to have fewer teachers,” he said. “We all feel that impact. Nobody is happy about being in this situation. I don’t fault them for this passion. We were trying to look a little bit down the road so we wouldn’t be here this time next year.”