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City Schools of Decatur plans budget amid financial uncertainty

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City Schools of Decatur plans budget amid financial uncertainty

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education. Top row, left to right: Superintendent David Dude and School Board Chair Lewis Jones. Bottom row, left to right: School board members James Herndon, Tasha White (Vice Chair), Heather Tell and Jana Johnson-Davis. Image obtained via City Schools of Decatur
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By Sara Amis, contributor 

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education on Jan. 27 met for a second public discussion of the school district’s budget.

Executive Director of Finance Lonita Broome presented an overview of both amended budgets for fiscal year 2021 and proposed budgets for fiscal year 2022.

The revised 2021 budget includes $1.1 million in CARES funding, which increases the amount that will be left in reserve funds from $5.4 million to $6.6 million.

The current budget for FY22 assumes that personnel and operational expenses will remain the same and that austerity cuts to the Quality Basic Education contributions from the state will be partially restored. It also includes the proposed senior homestead tax exemption and a .75% increase in contributions by the district to the Teacher’s Retirement System. It does not include one time expenses related to the pandemic.

The State Board of Education is seeking to restore 60% of the austerity cuts that have been made both to the 2021 and 2022 QBE contributions, which would increase revenue for both years by $1.9 million.  In addition, the state Board of Education will be voting on a $1,000 bonus for onsite employees for FY21.  Neither of those decisions have been officially made yet.

Broome presented areas where expenses might be cut, which include a 10 to 15 percent reduction in operating costs, reducing the frequency of STAMP tests, and only providing Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate testing fees for students below a certain income level. The district currently pays the fees for all students, and several board members expressed concern that not continuing to do so might create a barrier to participation. Board Vice Chair Heather Tell suggested that testing fees work the way fees for field trips currently do, where no one is required to pay the fee but those who can afford to pay do so on a volunteer basis.

Potential sources of revenue include tuition from students who reside outside the district. An estimated 38 spots in K-8 and 30 spots in 6 -12 could bring in $379,916. Another source of increased revenue would be raising the millage rate from its current level of 20.25.

The district is planning to start a virtual academy for students who wish to continue virtual learning indefinitely, but Superintendent Dr. David Dude cautioned that it was likely to lose money at first and that it will be difficult to estimate expenses until the level of interest is determined. However, there is potential for the virtual academy to be offered on a tuition basis to students outside the district, as well as on a course by course basis to homeschool students.

The current budget assumes no increase in salaries, but in order to maintain competitive salaries with step increases, the district would need an additional $670,000.

One additional expense will be remediation for students who have fallen behind over the past year due to the pandemic. Students only recently returned to the classroom and have been learning virtually. Many students still are learning virtually, opting to stay home when schools reopened on Jan. 19. Dude said that almost four times the typical number of high school students are currently failing classes, and extra attention will be needed to get those students back on track.

Remediation ideas include added seats for summer school, Saturday school, learning during fall and winter break, reducing class sizes, and “targeted intervention” as part of regular schooling. The least expensive approach would be targeted intervention, which would cost a minimal amount for training and supplies. The cost of various “extra” schooling programs range from about $20,000 to $150,000.  Dude said that reducing class sizes would be the most expensive, at $1.5 million, but would also be the most effective.

Dude cautioned that there is uncertainty both about decisions being made at the state level about austerity cuts and the potential for future unforeseen expenses.

“I’m really worried about impacts from COVID continuing into this next year,” said Dude.

A draft of the FY22 budget will be presented at the regular Board meeting February 9.

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