Mike Looney warned Fulton County Schools could see severe budget cuts for the 2020-21 academic year as it and the state deal with a tax revenue shortfall caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“We will be working with you as we navigate the labyrinth of putting together a budget,” he said. “It’s not a surprise that the state has suffered a tremendous loss of revenue. I would like to insulate the school district from cuts to the budget as much as possible. But we have to do our part, and we will have our department heads reexamine our budget requests and even challenge them further to make cuts.”
At the Fulton Board of Education’s April 23 meeting, Looney gave an update on the budget and other ways the district has been impacted by the pandemic. The meeting was held virtually due to the outbreak.
“We still do not know what impact the COVID-19 outbreak will have on the state budget and the district budget,” he said, adding the Georgia General Assembly, which suspended its 2020 session March 13 due to the pandemic, may reconvene as early as June 11.
Marvin Dereef, the district’s chief financial officer, did offer some good news. He said the U.S. Department of Education, through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security (CARES) Act, plans to dole out $457.2 million to Georgia, with an estimated $18.9 million going to the Fulton district. States have until July 1 to apply for the funds.
Patrick Burke, the district’s chief operating officer, said its program of distributing meals to students from 21 school sites on a weekly basis hit a record April 22 with 70,260 meals given out.
“It’s an incredible achievement since our staff has been limited to a small number because of social distancing guidelines,” he said. “Six meal sites did run out of meal packets and they were diverted to other sites. We’re making adjustments from one site to another. … To date, we’ve served 304,180 meals since we’ve had our food staff locations.”
District 2 board member Katie Reeves asked for clarification from district leaders on when students who have incomplete grades can make up their coursework.
“I’m starting to get are very direct questions (from parents): what does it mean if my child has an incomplete?” she said. “What if they have two incompletes? What triggers mandatory summer school and what triggers voluntary summer school? And what’s the last day to turn things in?”
In response, Looney said a student would get an incomplete grade if he or she didn’t finish 70% of his or her assignments given since the district shifted to virtual learning in mid-March. The district’s grade cutoff period for all papers to be completed is the week of May 11 through 15, but students who need more time could get up to an extra week after that.
“They can recover the work in a summer school session or in a fall recovery process,” he said.
Cliff Jones, the district’s chief academic officer, said it will create a frequently asked questions page on its website to address any inquiries parents might have.
The board opened its meeting with Looney and board members collectively thanking the district’s students, parents and staff for dealing with the pandemic, which has caused Fulton and countless other districts in Georgia and the nation to cancel events such as sports games and shift others, like graduation ceremonies, to online-only affairs.
“Saying it’s unfair is not remotely adequate,” District 1 board member Katha Stuart said. “You missed out on all those events that are important.”
District 4 board member Kimberly Dove added, To the seniors, you have remained diligent and resilient through 12 years of learning. Who would have predicted the day you saw your classmates, your teachers, your principals for the last time was in March due to this pandemic? … Congratulations to the class of 2020 and continue to expect the best out of life.”