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Decatur Schools draft budget includes proposed tax increase

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Decatur Schools draft budget includes proposed tax increase

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 — Executive Director of Finance Lonita Broome presented the latest draft of the fiscal year 2022 budget at the Decatur School Board’s March 9 meeting.

Both the FY21 and FY22 budgets have gone through several revisions, partially due to the changing impacts of COVID 19 pandemic spending, federal CARES act relief funding, and austerity cuts in Quality Basic Education funding from the state. 

At the first presentation of the budget in January, Broome projected that in FY22 the district’s reserve fund would be reduced to $235,000, after $11.2 million was drawn from reserves in FY21. However, after funding from the CARES act was received, and 60% of austerity cuts to QBE was restored by the legislature, some $5.9 million was restored to the FY21 and FY22 budgets. However, in order to keep the fund balance above the 4% of total expenditures dictated by board policy and replenish the reserve funds to 10% over time, the millage rate would need to be raised from its current 20.25 to 22.25 for FY23 and FY24, after which Broome projects it could be lowered again to 20.25.

There are things on the horizon that could help ease the current budget squeeze. The current senior homestead tax exemption will phase out at the end of this year, regardless of whether the new version passes the Legislature and is approved in a referendum. Either way, the amount of tax revenue the district receives will increase. Secondly, both Broome and Dude stated that the austerity cuts in QBE were likely to end by FY24. However, Superintendent David Dude also cautioned that it was difficult to predict future costs associated with the pandemic.

The third revision of the FY21 budget includes an increased expenditure of $182,000 for a summer school remediation program for this year. The FY22 budget includes a robust remediation program to be phased out in FY23 through FY25.  Budgets for FY22-FY25 include personnel, benefits, and resources costs for a Decatur Virtual Academy.

Public comment at the March 9 board meeting generally supported an online academy program for various reasons. Some parents pointed out that children under 16 will not likely be vaccinated by the fall, and many parents may elect to keep their children home especially if they are medically vulnerable. Parent Marie Drury advocated having online options for students with different needs and situations, saying that some students with anxiety disorders may benefit from the lack of pressure to speak in class. 

Superintendent Dude said that most likely teachers would be drawn from existing schools to teach online classes, and virtual academy students would be considered students of those existing schools rather than of a separate online only school. 

The Decatur School Board will adopt a preliminary budget at its next regular meeting on April 13, and a final budget on May 12. The board will also adopt a tentative millage rate at their May meeting.  After the preliminary tax digest is received, public hearings on the millage rate will be held June 15 and July 13 before being voted on at the July School Board meeting. 

The public can see the latest draft of the CSD FY 2022 budget and provide feedback on the City Schools of Decatur website

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