This story has been updated.
Decatur, Georgia — The City Schools of Decatur School Board approved a $640,000 budget amendment for three new positions, a superintendent search, increased fuel costs and increased insurance premiums.
The school board also learned that funding for 16 staff positions could be added to the fiscal year 2023 budget at a cost of $2.1 million. The board will discuss another budget amendment in August to address funding for these positions.
At the July 12 meeting, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman explained that the district needed to eliminate 26 positions through attrition, but only eliminated 10. The fiscal year 2023 budget was built on the assumption that 26 employees would leave the district.
In the FY23 budget, all staff who wished to return were retained and a new staffing formula was implemented.
“We also only wanted to eliminate vacancies due to natural attrition, so that was one of the caveats as we implemented this new staffing mix,” Fehrman said. “We have finished staffing our schools. In the end, we realized that we had only been able to cut 10 positions instead of the 26 that we had initially planned…”
This leaves 16 positions that are filled and need to be funded, since funding was not included in the FY23 budget.
“The 16 positions that we wanted to try to eliminate, we couldn’t eliminate them because we just had to replace the staff who were leaving, and then we couldn’t find another position that could be eliminated,” Fehrman said. . “As we wanted to keep staff in our school system who wanted to work for us, we bring them back.”
Tuesday night’s budget amendment also includes three new positions – a communications and public relations coordinator, an equity coordinator and a music teacher at Westchester Elementary School.
The Equity Coordinator position was identified earlier, but was not initially included in the FY23 budget. The Westchester music teacher retired, and it was a position that CSD did not expect to provide.
“We thought okay, we would split a teacher between two lower elementary schools, but as they were building their schedules in June, there was just no way to split a teacher between two schools,” Fehrman said. “The good news is that this position would also be used to support our program of three to five orchestras. I think it’s a win-win situation for us as a school system to make sure we have a music teacher in Westchester to give these kids that early music experience and then also support our program orchestra in our upper elementary schools.
The amendment also includes funding for the contract with the Georgia School Boards Association to conduct the superintendent’s search, increased fuel and bus maintenance costs, increased insurance premium, and a custodial contract. .
With the budget amendment that was approved, the district budget was reduced from $85.7 million to approximately $86 million. A potential budget amendment to accommodate staff positions would put the budget at around $88 million.
“If we go back to the 2019 budget, we operated a school system with 5,600 students, so a little more than 100 more students than today. In the 2019 budget, we had something like a $72 million budget,” said school board member Hans Utz. “So, three years later, we’re talking about a budget of $89 million. That’s a $17 million budget increase over three years, and we’re now teaching 100 fewer students. I’m not comfortable with where we are.
He added that the district needs to look at spending. He also acknowledged that part of this increase is due to COVID-19 and federal funding.
“This is a year where seniors are hit with tax bills for the first time in several years,” Utz said. “I’m just uncomfortable looking them in the face, saying we’re as efficient as we can be. Seventeen million dollars is a huge increase over three years. I’m not comfortable – unless we’re talking about finding funds in this budget to cover some of that – going ahead and spending some of those funds in this way.
Utz also said he would like to see a plan for how the district can “come back from this place within three years.” Utz cast the only vote against the $640,000 budget amendment, which was approved by a 3-1 vote.
Fehrman added that the influx of state funding, such as $2,000 bounty funding, will increase CSD’s budget. There were also staff hired with CARES Act funding that went back into the general fund this year, which was over $3 million.
“There, we’re already talking about an increase in our overall budget of about $5 million, so I think that explains some of that growth,” Fehrman said. “I agree that student enrollment is declining. That’s why we adopted the new staff distribution formula to try to reduce the overall operational costs in order to solve this problem.
Board member Tasha White asked for a breakdown of the components that make up that $17 million increase to determine where the efficiencies lie, if any.
“What is this number that we can really work with to bring down and what were other numbers related to COVID and the CARES Act and promotions that we can put in a separate bucket that we cannot touch,” White said. . “I’d love to see that pop at some point, and I think we’d be better able to tackle potential inefficiencies.”
Fiscal 2022 also saw some changes in the final budget due to unforeseen additional funding from the state. CSD was repaid $1.3 million as austerity cuts were reinstated this year. The district also received state funding to give employees a $2,000 bonus, and the school system was held harmless this year for enrollment in the Quality Basic Education formula.
“Even though we didn’t meet the planned enrollment last year that the state projected us to, they didn’t deduct anything from that on our QBE formula,” Fehrman said. “So the money they sent us was equal to two years ago, but they’re going to adjust it this year. Our next budget reflected a decrease in registrations and a decrease in our QBE allocation.
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