Board Briefs: Board Approves Annual Budget, Calls for Education SPLOST renewal

Board Briefs: Board Approves Annual Budget, Calls for Education SPLOST renewal

The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, June 16, 2016 unanimously approved the Superintendent’s 2016-17 Annual Budget, which reduces class size, improves student services and further restores reserves, all without increasing the millage rate.

The Annual Budget, which includes a $359 Million day-to-day operating budget, fulfills School Board members’ top priorities, such as hiring 68 additional teachers to address student growth and further reduce class size, offering competitive pay and benefits to attract and retain the best workforce possible and investing in instructional resources and technology.  The millage rate remains steady at 19.45 mills.

“This is a long process – six months in the making – and we appreciate all of your work,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer told Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower and his senior staff, who annually conduct a comprehensive, zero-sunset budget review.

The School District operates on a balanced budget with no operating debt, and Dr. Hightower emphasized that while the State government has reduced its “austerity budget cut,” CCSD still is not receiving $3.9 Million in State funds owed to its students; and while the local property tax digest is improving, revenue remains at 2007 levels… despite the increase of thousands of students since then.

“We are still coming out of the Recession,” Dr. Hightower said, noting that ineffective programs and spending continually are cut, and any proposed new spending is closely reviewed prior to approval.

The Board during its meeting also called for an election on Nov. 8 to continue the current 1-percent Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), which funds school construction, renovation and repairs; technology; land acquisition; school buses; and retiring bond debt for another five years.

The plan calls for continued use of the Board’s longtime system of bonding future Ed SPLOST revenue, which has been necessary to keep up with the community’s explosive population growth.  Specific projects planned include classroom additions for Woodstock Middle School and Mill Creek Middle School and an additional gym/multi-use space for Woodstock High School… all of which are needed to offset overcrowding.

“I also will continue to drive my staff to look for land because we’re going to continue to grow,” Dr. Hightower said.

During its regular meeting, the School Board also:

  • Recognized Johnston ES Principal Amy Graham as a “Top 10 in 10: Young Professionals to Watch” Award Winner;
  • Recognized Woodstock ES Assistant Principal Rachel Wasserman as the Georgia 2016 National Distinguished Assistant Principal;
  • Recognized Carmel ES and Liberty ES for winning international awards recognizing effective strategies to develop positive character in students;
  • Recognized Creekview High School Army JROTC Dual Exhibition Team as Regional Winners, State Champions and Nationally ranked competitors;
  • Recognized Liberty ES as the CCSD 2015-16 Elementary Science Olympiad Winners;
  • Recognized CCSD’s 2015-16 Young Georgia Authors Writing Competition Winners;
  • Recognized Creekview HS Team America Rocketry Challenge competitors and UAS4STEM National competition qualifiers;
  • Recognized CCSD’s Georgia PTA Reflections Winners;
  • Recognized State and Regional Champions from Creekview HS and Etowah HS;
  • Approved the first reading of School Board Policy changes;
  • Approved a hairnet bid as part of the School Nutrition cooperative program;
  • Approved the annual request for State assistance with developing a new/replacement Five-Year Facilities plan;
  • Approved special lease agreements;
  • Approved a $235,000 low bid from Womack, Lewis & Smith for construction of security foyers at eight elementary schools, the first phase of a three-phase project;
  • Approved out-of-state travel;
  • Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
  • Approved monthly capital outlay projects;
  • After meeting in executive session, approved monthly personnel recommendations, which included the appointment of George Brown as Coordinator of Vehicle Maintenance.


Board Briefs: Board Approves Two New Partnership Agreements with Community Organizations

Aramark Scholarship Winners 2016

The Aramark Scholarship Committee selected the following winners for a total of $6,000 in scholarships, who recently were recognized at a Cherokee County School Board meeting: Cherokee HS: Nishi Patel and Logan Willis; Creekview HS: Peyton Heath and Alyssa Powell; Etowah HS: Elizabeth Joann Dillard and Aaron Torres; River Ridge HS: Kaila Banker and Pierce Livesay; Sequoyah HS: Madison Evans and William “Will” Garrett Sanders; and Woodstock HS: Connor Booz and Bree’ara Murphy.

Highlights from regular meetings of the Cherokee County School Board

May 19, 2016: Strategic Work Session & Regular Meeting

The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, May 19, 2016 spent its work session reviewing the Superintendent’s 2016-17 Annual Budget, which calls for reductions in class size and improvements in services for students without the need for a millage rate increase.

The tentative Annual Budget, which includes a $359 Million day-to-day operating budget, was approved to be tabled for a month of public review prior to an adoption vote on June 16.  The Executive Summary of the budget and annual Financial Facts report, a quick read on CCSD financial issues, both are posted on the CCSD website at  Public hearings will be held at 11:30 a.m. June 7 and 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. June 16 at the Historic Canton High School/School Board Auditorium.

School Board Chair Kyla Cromer praised the Superintendent and his staff for incorporating all of the Board’s major budget priorities: maintaining 180 instructional days; continuing to reduce class size; improving classroom technology access; increasing budget reserves (to $48.8 Million… a positive for financial stability and credit ratings); offering competitive compensation and benefits; providing more resources for support services; and considering more innovative models like the Cherokee Academies.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower during the budget presentation highlighted an impressive list of operational enhancements, such as the hiring of 68 additional teachers to address student growth and further reduce class size, as well as the adoption of new math instructional resources for all grade levels and the appointment of three teachers on special assignment to serve as District “content coaches” to assist schools with using the new Grades K-12 resources and online tools.

“We’re not just going to throw resources at the schools,” Dr. Hightower said, as to why content coaches are important to the adoption’s success, noting that, in addition to the new content coaches, he also is recommending the appointment of four teachers on special assignment to pilot an assistance program in selected schools to provide teachers with better academic intervention and remediation efforts for at-risk students.

Other budget highlights include recommendations to:

  • Increase the starting pay for beginning teachers to $42,250;
  • Provide annual longevity step raise for all eligible employees;
  • Provide a 1% cost-of-living raise to all eligible employees;
  • Utilize one additional school social worker to reduce the caseloads of the existing two social workers;
  • Add a school nurse to serve students attending ACE Academy;
  • Add three additional technology specialists to provide hardware and software technical assistance to teachers and support personnel;
  • Add 14 new bus drivers and two new bus attendants to address continued increases in student ridership, improve efficiency and reduce ride time for students;
  • Continue to allocate one-half teacher allotment at each high school… dedicated to credit recovery/helping students stay on track for graduation;
  • Expand the school entry door security system that was successfully piloted this year to include card “swipe-in” access for employees at critical playground and mobile classroom area entry ways;
  • Construct school front hallway security foyers at eight pilot elementary schools;
  • Prepare the original Dean Rusk Middle School for occupation by Sequoyah High School (January 2017); and,
  • Repair/realign the bus drive at Macedonia Elementary School.

Assistant Superintendent for Financial Management Kenneth Owen said, although the State “austerity budget cut” was reduced to $3.9 Million and the Local property tax digest is improving, revenue continues to lag behind pre-Recession levels.

“We’re so glad to see property values again rising, but they’re still $4.2 Million less than what we got in 2007, and here we are 5,400 kids later,” Mr. Owen said.

As a result, CCSD will need to continue to address class size reduction, additional new instructional materials adoptions and other budget priorities in future budget cycles.

The Board during its regular meeting also approved the refinancing of some of CCSD’s bond debt from school construction projects, which will save $3.3 Million in interest over the next seven years… which, at more than 6% interest savings, is twice the standard goal level of savings.

“This makes those dollars go that much further… we’re really, really happy with the results,” Bryce Holcomb of Citi Group, CCSD’s bond underwriter, said of the refinancing pricing, which was conducted Thursday morning.

During its regular meeting, the School Board also:

  • Recognized CCSD’s School Nutrition Association for Winning Georgia Gold Scroll Award;
  • Recognized Etowah High School as Region 5AAAAAA GEMC Cooperative Spirit Sportsmanship Award Winner and River Ridge High School as 7AAAAA GEMC Cooperative Spirit Sportsmanship Award Winner;
  • Recognized 2015-16 Regional Science and Engineering Fair Winners;
  • Recognized 2015-16 Social Studies Fair Regional and State Winners;
  • Recognized 2015-16 Star English Learners and Star ESOL Teachers;
  • Recognized State and Regional Champions: Cherokee HS wrestling and track, Creekview HS girls soccer and Woodstock HS boys and girls swimming;
  • Recognized Recipients of Aramark 2016 Education Scholarships;
  • Recognized Cherokee HS Senior Bailee Gilbreath as recipient of the 2016 Oak Leaf Church Scholarship;
  • Recognized Free Home ES Principal Karen Carl as a 2016 Georgia Distinguished Principal;
  • Approved the renewal of a Partnership Agreement with the Cherokee County Health Department and a new Partnership Agreement with the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research;
  • Approved selection of a bond underwriter and financial advisor and authorization to select bond counsel;
  • Approved out-of-state travel;
  • Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
  • Approved monthly capital outlay projects;
  • Approved monthly personnel recommendations;
  • After meeting in executive session, voted to modify a student discipline decision to allow the student transportation to school, 5-2, with Board Members John Harmon and Robert Rechsteiner dissenting.

Next School Board meeting: 7 p.m. June 16, 2016