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Cobb School Board Adopts FY 2014 Budget

The $856.3 million budget approved Thursday includes 5 furlough days and 182 teacher cuts through attrition.

The Cobb Board of Education on Thursday approved a fiscal year 2014 budget that includes five furlough days for teachers and staff, a reduction of 182 teaching positions through attrition, a half-year step increase for employees and taking $41 million from reserves to reach a balance.

After the board voted down three other budget proposals -- including an amended version of the tentative budget with a full-year step increase for Cobb County School District employees -- it went back to something it could pass.

The $856.3 million budget, which takes effect July 1, is similar to the package that the board tentatively approved on April 29 and closes a deficit of $86.4 million.

But it took the board more than two hours of discussion Thursday to make it official.

Voting in favor the budget Thursday were board chairman Randy Scamihorn and vice chairman Brad Wheeler and board members Scott Sweeney and David Banks.

Voting against were Kathleen Angelucci, David Morgan and Tim Stultz.

While some of the votes changed since the tentative budget approval, the arguments about how to address long-term budget deficit concerns remain the same.

"We're elected to solve problems, not to carry on and carry on and carry on," said Stultz, who proposed two budget alternatives, one of which was rejected. "If not now, when? If not any these [budget proposals], what?"

Stultz, of Smyrna, proposed a budget that would include four furlough days, cutting 204 teaching positions and ramping up the hiring of online teachers for some high school courses as a cost-saving measure.

He called his proposal "a good compromise," but could get only two other votes.

Scamihorn, a retired Cobb teacher and school administrator from North Cobb, reflected a reluctance for making deeper cuts that he said would affect classroom instruction and teacher and staff morale.

"We're up against a timeline, but this is a workable budget," said Scamihorn, who has urged the board to consider beginning the FY 2015 budget process in September.

"We have a full year to do a doable budget."

Banks, of Northeast Cobb, proposed an amended budget that would have kept teacher cuts at 182 positions but would have added $5.2 million from reserve funds for a full-year step increase. However, his vote was the only vote in favor.

When the board took a vote on keeping the additional step increase money in the tentative budget, that vote also failed, as did a motion by Stultz to table budget discussion to a special called meeting.

After a short break, Banks moved to pass the original tentative budget with the half-year step increase.

Sweeney, of East Cobb, voted against the tentative budget and said while he still has "deep reservations," the board can come back and modify the budget later.

But he continued to caution his colleagues about making rosier assumptions about the Cobb tax digest than current projections.

The Cobb tax assessor is predicting a drop of 2.3 percent in the FY 2014 digest, representing more than $7 million.

The budget the school board adopted Thursday assumes zero digest growth at the behest of Scamihorn, who said the "indicators are that we are improving."

Angelucci, who wanted to delay a budget vote to study the alternatives, agreed.

"I do believe things are getting better," said Angelucci, also of Northeast Cobb.

The budget includes using $22 million in general fund reserves and $10 million in leftover budget funds, as well as a one-time addition of $8.8 million from the state in Quality Basic Education funding.

Chief finance officer Brad Johnson said the Cobb school district is looking at a $60 million deficit for fiscal year 2015 just to start, and that figure is likely to rise.

He said rising health insurance costs already amount to $5 million and also are likely to go higher.

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