Furloughs Proposed for Cobb Schools
Teacher layoffs have not been recommended as the projected budget deficit for fiscal year 2014 has increased to $86.4 million.
The chief financial officer for the Cobb County School District is proposing five furlough days, hundreds of school-level staff reductions, borrowing from reserve funds and cancelling an employee cost-of-living increase to help balance a fiscal year 2014 budget deficit that has grown to an estimated $86.4 million.
The proposed cuts do not include a recommendation for teacher layoffs, but savings through attrition.
In a special budget presentation to the Cobb Board of Education, chief financial officer Brad Johnson said his estimates were revised up from nearly $80 million earlier this year, largely due to rising insurance costs for district employees.
He is now projecting $894 million in expenses against $807.6 million in anticipated revenues.
After previously urging caution in touching the district’s $98 million in reserves, Johnson proposed that the board take out $22 million, or 15 percent, of its contingency funding. Last year the board withdrew $28 million in reserves to help close a $62 million budget hole and imposed three furlough days (later reduced to two).
But this year, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the board, the situation is different.
“This the worst-case scenario,” he said. “You can take only so many nickels and dimes from between the cushions, but that isn’t going to get you very far. To get to the big numbers you have to go to where the big numbers are.”
The five furlough days for all teachers and staff would save $15.5 million, including $1 million that would be cut in transportation costs for the five reduced instructional days.
The proposed budget-cutting recommendations include:
- Cutting 295 positions from professional staff at the school level, including teachers through attrition ($22.1 million);
- Cancelling cost-of-living increases for all employees ($10 million);
- Eliminate bus transportation for students who live within 1.5 miles of their school, instead of 0.5 miles ($4.6 million);
- Hiring incoming teachers at a new salary level instead of an average teacher salary ($4.2 million):
- Cutting 34 school-level administrative positions, primarily assistant principals ($3.4 million);
- Outsourcing custodial services ($2.3 million);
- Hiring 41 papaprofessionals for in-school suspensions (ISS) and reducing the same number of ISS teacher positions ($1.9 million);
- Awarding only half-credit to new teachers for years of service accrued elsewhere, instead of full credit ($1.8 million);
- Reducing central office costs through 7.5 position cuts ($1.3 million);
- Eliminating transportation for magnet schools and to and from Boys and Girls Clubs ($1 million).
The grim numbers were presented after the board heard the outlines of a conceptual plan to expand the district’s online learning program, a move designed for long-term cost savings. The proposed plan would shift as many as 25 percent of all teaching positions to virtual instruction by fiscal year 2018, at roughly half the cost of classroom teachers.
Johnson is recommending the board add 66 online teachers at a salary of $31,500 each, and for a cost of $2.1 million, in what is being called the "Strawman" project, which he stressed was only conceptual.
Few board members initially had comments on the budget, with chairman Randy Scamihorn pointing out that the recommendations were only "a starting point."
Board member Kathleen Angelucci of Northeast Cobb said cutting transportation for magnet schools "really bothers me greatly."
Johnson said the district does not know how much state funding will be forthcoming from the Georgia legislature, which adjourns next week. He's also meeting next week with Cobb government officials to get an updated estimate on the 2013 county tax digest, which comes out in July.
Johnson's initial forecast anticipates the district receiving $398 million in local revenue -- with $343 million coming from property taxes -- and $405 million from the state in Quality Basic Education funding.
"We're going into a very long, slow, protracted [economic] recovery," said board member Scott Sweeney of East Cobb. "It's a scary time [for school districts] across the country." While some are closing schools by the dozen, he said, "the needs aren't going away."
The proposed budget cuts were sobering for Connie Jackson, head of the Cobb County Association of Educators.
She said that while she "expected the numbers would be unpleasant, the level of cuts is distressing." Not only will students be adversely affected, Jackson said, she predicted that teachers "already stretched to the limits will be further demoralized."
Jackson said the half-credit measure will do little to attract experienced teachers to Cobb. "Why would you want to come here?"
"I know we have to have cuts," she said. "But what's being proposed here really will affect the safety and education of our students."
The school board will next take up the budget at work sessions on April 17 and 25. A public budget forum is scheduled for May 13 and the board is expected to adopt a budget by May 16.