The board voted to designate $5 million in the general fund toward a rebuild of the 1951 building, which is tied for the county’s oldest school. A rebuilt school also would likely replace nearby Clay Elementary.
The meeting ran from 8:30 a.m. to 5:25 p.m. with a few short breaks.
Originally, the agenda item said only that a new school would be built in south Cobb. But after a lengthy discussion the board decided to specially state the new school would replace Harmony-Leland.
“We made a commitment to our communities,” said school board vice chair Randy Scamihorn.
Several Harmony-Leland parents have complained that the school wasn’t included for a rebuild on the last education sales tax vote. Instead, Brumby Elementary and Mountain View Elementary are being rebuilt.
The vote was 4-2. Board members David Banks and Scott Sweeney voted against the measure, with David Morgan not present for the afternoon portion of the meeting. Morgan said he missed the second half of the meeting to pick up his daughter from school and attend an awards program. The rebuilt school would be in Morgan’s district.
Banks argued Powers Ferry Elementary, which is located in his district, is just as old and equally deserving of a rebuild.
“I think they have equal needs,” he said. “Since Powers Ferry is in my post, yeah, I want the money spent in my post.”
But according to School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci, Powers Ferry parents had told board members during a recent meeting they weren’t necessarily seeking a new building. Banks disagreed, but ultimately the board decided to commit the money to Harmony-Leland.
Budget includes 300 new teachers, not 400
Another 4-2 vote by the board shot down an idea floated by Sweeney to add 400 new teachers into next year’s budget rather than 300, which the board included in its tentative budget. The extra 100 teachers would cost an estimated $7.5 million, which would have been taken out of reserve funds. Sweeney argued there was plenty of money in the budget to cover the added expense and the extra teachers would reduce class sizes, but other board members were more cautious.
Sweeney is nearing the end of a re-election bid against fellow Republican Kevin Nicholas, who has three children who attend Cobb schools. The race will be decided May 20, with the winner holding the office from 2015-18, since there are no Democrats running for the post.
“I’d like to see a minimum of 400,” Sweeney said.
School Board Vice Chair Randy Scamihorn opposed the idea. He said Sweeney had been trying to cut the budget as much as possible during last year’s process and wondered aloud why Sweeney was wanting to spend more money in this round.
“You’ve almost flip-flopped,” he said.
Sweeney argued the recovering economy meant the budget should come in even higher next year.
Angelucci agreed more teachers would be great for the system, but said it’s not worth the risk.
“We should never balance the budget on one-time funds,” she said.
In the end, only Sweeney and Banks voted in favor of the extra teachers.
The board did vote to add other positions, increasing the overall budget number from $899,131,695 to $900,243,511. The budget for the expiring school year is roughly $856 million.
Eleven new school resource officers will be added next year at a cost of $575,000. The extra resource officers ensure a police officer will be assigned to every high school and middle school in the county starting next fall. Six groundskeepers also will be added at a cost of $402,000, and a new central office position known as a discipline administrator will be hired at a total cost of $134,816. The numbers include benefits, which are roughly 34 percent of the cost of hiring an employee, according to Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson. The money for police vehicles and equipment for the grounds crews are separate will come out of sales tax dollars.
Board member Tim Stultz brought up the need for grounds crews, saying Campbell High School had painting done after neighbors complained about the school’s appearance.
“We have a need for a professional-looking environment,” he said.
Next fall, the board will also look at giving employees a 1 percent raise. Employees were given a 2 percent cut in 2010. Half of that will be restored starting next year and the other half will be restored as well if the budget numbers are strong in the fall. The 1 percent raise already included in the tentative budget will cost the district $7 million.
According to a personnel report approved by the board, Dr. Karen Frost, principal of Tritt Elementary, and Dr. Susan Galante, principal of Durham Middle, will retire at the end of the school year.
A budget hearing for public comment will take place tonight at 7 p.m. at district headquarters. The school board makes its final vote on the budget May 29.