Marietta schools officials say they are not expecting layoffs or hiring freezes ahead of likely statewide budget cuts for next fiscal year, while Cobb officials say they’re waiting for state lawmakers to provide more details before they make any decisions.
Public school systems, as well as various state agencies, are grappling with budget issues stemming from anticipated revenue shortfalls prompted by business closures and social-distancing measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Officials have already begun hashing out how to trim the state Board of Education’s budget by 14% for the upcoming 2021 fiscal year, beginning July 1, per orders last Friday by top budget-drafting lawmakers in the General Assembly.
Those cuts could result in staff furloughs or shortened work weeks on top of program impacts, school board members said Monday. State agencies have until May 20 to hand in proposals for budget cuts.
The state school board is expected to discuss budget cuts in more detail during its next meeting on May 14.
MARIETTA CITY SCHOOLS
Marietta schools Superintendent Grant Rivera told the MDJ though some metro area school systems are already implementing hiring freezes and taking other measures, Marietta will seek to insulate its schools from the financial impact.
“In recent weeks, we’ve been preparing for some adjustment to our budget because the loss of revenue, both at the local level and the state level, was inevitable,” Rivera said, adding that the district is preparing for the full 14% reduction. “There are a couple pieces that will allow Marietta to do this in a way that is least disruptive to schools and ultimately, least disruptive to our staff and students.”
Rivera said his district is not considering shortening a school work week once in-person schooling can resume, and is instead searching for ways to “tighten our belt” at local schools, for example by reducing charter expenditures — money provided to schools to “encourage innovation” — by 10%.
The superintendent said one way Marietta will seek to avoid a trickle-down effect on individual classrooms is by using a recent $2.3 million payment from the city of Marietta, which he said couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.
The payment, which the district has already received, came from revenue collected by two tax allocation districts that were recently dissolved by the city, according to Marietta schools Chief Finance Officer Erin Franklin. Franklin said that money will help to absorb some of the expected budget cuts in fiscal year 2021.
COBB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Meanwhile, Cobb schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale says his district is taking a wait-and-see approach. Ragsdale said any decisions made before a state budget has been decided would be speculation. And given that the budget discussions aren’t likely to happen at the Capitol until next month, he said, the school board could consider approving a month-by-month spending plan, if need be. He said if that were to occur, it would likely last only a month.
“It is sort of a tight window, because normally, we have our budget approved in May, so it’s just truly unknown what (Quality Basic Education) funding is going to look like,” Ragsdale said, adding that state lawmakers have told him the budget will be their No. 1 priority when they return. “Until you have real numbers to work with, we just need to wait for the Legislature to come back in session.”
Both districts also said they are slated to receive in coming weeks a portion of the $411 million in federal funding provided to Georgia in efforts to help local school districts shore up their budgets and programs as coronavirus continues pummeling the state’s economy.
Cobb schools is expected to receive between $14 million and $16 million, while Marietta schools will get about $1.6 million.
In Marietta, Franklin said that money could help absorb a portion of any budget reductions, as well as supplement school meal programs, staffing expenses or special services for low-income, 乐乐棋牌less, migrant and foster-care students.
In Cobb, Ragsdale said the district will continue to wait for more details to decide where the money might go.
“We’re not yet producing any plans on what to do with the money,” he said. “Holding onto the CARES Act money is simply just a strategy to say, ‘OK, what is the budget going to look like, what impacts have been a result of COVID-19 ... (and) making sure we round out that organization as best (we can) for students and staff,” he said.
District finance officers say the federal grant money could be sent to local districts in coming weeks.
— Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this report