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Superintendent Chris Ragsdale at an April Cobb County Board of Education meeting.

MARIETTA — The Cobb County Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the district’s $1.4 billion fiscal year 2023 budget, which includes raises of 8.5% to 13.1% for all non-temporary employees.

The raises, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said, are the largest in the history of the district.

“I just want to give a shout out to the board, appreciate the support for this budget,” Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said following the vote. “Again, this is something that every single team member does not take lightly. It takes a true team effort to bring this about … I appreciate the support, I know I speak for all 18,000-plus team members when I say that.”

All non-temporary staff will receive raises of at least 8.5%. Employees who are eligible for a salary step will see even higher increases.

Included in the 8.5% to 13.1% figure are $2,000 raises for all Georgia teachers, funded by the state. On the campaign trail four years ago, Gov. Brian Kemp pledged $5,000 raises for all Georgia teachers. The first $3,000 of that raise came in 2019, with the remainder postponed until this year due to the fiscal uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

The current general fund millage rate of 18.9 mills remains unchanged, as it has since 2007.

The district’s fiscal year runs from the beginning of July through the end of the following June. The board gave Ragsdale’s budget tentative approval in April before Thursday night’s final vote.

Two public hearings were held on the budget — neither drew public comment from residents.

Brad Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer, said Georgia’s rapid economic recovery enabled the state to restore austerity cuts that were made at the start of the pandemic — the district will see a net increase in state funding of $43 million next fiscal year.

Local revenues from property taxes have also surged, with the Cobb County Board of Tax Assessors expecting a 10.5% growth in the tax digest this year. District staff project that the growth, the first double-digit increase in more than two decades, will bring the school system an increase of $65 million in local property tax revenue next fiscal year.

“After another challenging school year, our teachers and staff deserve this historic raise and much more. I am thankful every day that our team members are so dedicated to our students, schools, and community. They are what makes Cobb the best place to teach, lead, and learn,” said school board Chairman David Chastain in a news release.

At a work session earlier in the day, Ragsdale was asked by board member Charisse Davis how Cobb compares to other metro Atlanta districts in salary competitiveness. The superintendent said staff would need to do more analysis after other districts pass their budgets to say for sure.

Also at the work session, board member Dr. Jaha Howard asked Ragsdale about increasing the number of social workers and school psychologists the district employs.

The district plans to review its psychologist needs in the upcoming year, Ragsdale said, to see if it should fund more positions.

“Every school district in the country is going to be trying to hire school psychologists, as mental health has been presented as the primary issue or outcome, if you will, of everything that we’ve gone through going through the pandemic,” he said.

That discussion led to Ragsdale framing the raises as a requirement, not a choice, when speaking about other staffing challenges the district faces.

“Right now, I think school districts are in a precarious position. Because while school districts are not built to be like a business, we’re having to compete like a business for employees,” Ragsdale said. “...Primarily, we’re a people business, with over, I believe now, 94% of our $1.4 billion budget is in people. So, if we can’t get the necessary, even just the numbers of people to fill positions, let alone the best and brightest to fill those, then we’re going to be doing a disservice to the students and our staff as well.”

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