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Pandemic cuts deeply into City Schools of Decatur’s reserve money

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Pandemic cuts deeply into City Schools of Decatur’s reserve money

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education. Top row, left to right: former 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

By Sara Amis, contributor 

Decatur, GA — After two revisions, the fiscal year 2021 budget for City Schools of Decatur will draw $11,207,613 from the district’s reserve fund to cover the approximately $10 million difference between the FY2020 projected budget and the FY2021 budget.

The school district is pulling from its reserve funding in response to financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The amount for FY2021 includes the expense of hiring more teachers in order to return to in-person learning.

Preliminary budget numbers for FY2022 include another $5.4 million drawn from reserves, which will reduce total reserves to $389,229.

“It looks a little bleak. But I was worried about our reserve fund being down to zero,” said Superintendent Dr. David Dude.

In order to meet the CSD board policy of having a 4% reserve at all times even with no budget increase, the board would have to raise the millage rate to 21.55.  In order to accommodate normal budget increases including cost-of-living raises for teachers, additional revenue must be found.

Possibilities to meet budget requirements without raising the millage rate include allowing some tuition-paying students into schools that have room for them, and selling some properties that the district has purchased. Possible cuts to the budget might include delaying cost-of-living and/or step increases for staff, adding a furlough day, or cutting programs that have low attendance.

Board members expressed immediate opposition to some options.“One thing I want to avoid is a furlough day,” said Tasha White.

Board members also looked ahead to the follow-on effects of the pandemic, including the need for many students to make up lost ground.

Board member Jana Johnson-Davis asked, “If we reduce operating budgets, will that impact potential remediation programs?”

“If we make cuts across the board, yes,” said Dude, adding that he sought feedback from the board on how to be more precise and strategic in making decisions about which programs to cut and how much.

The FY2022 budget will be discussed further at the regular CSD board meeting on Tuesday, January 12 and at future meetings.

In other business, the school district is in the middle of the required engagement review process which is part of a five year accreditation cycle.

The assessment is being conducted remotely in its entirety by Cognia, a nonprofit accreditation organization. CSD must submit documents by February 12, and the engagement review will be conducted by Cognia March 29-31.

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