Board Briefs: Cherokee County School Board Approves 2017-18 Budget

Board Briefs: Cherokee County School Board Approves 2017-18 Budget

Category : Board Briefs

The School Board on Thursday, June 15, 2017, unanimously approved the Superintendent’s Recommended 2017-18 Annual Budget, which funds improvements in teaching and learning and safety and security without a millage rate increase.

The budget invests $382 Million into day-to-day operations, with 71% of that total in classroom instruction, including the continuing effort to decrease class size and the purchase of the first new instructional resources for elementary English and language arts classes in more than a decade.

Other major investments include reconfiguring Boston Elementary School’s entrance road to improve safety; retrofitting six more schools with security foyers limiting visitor access; purchasing 19 school buses to meet demand and replace aging vehicles; and piloting a new online GPS system that will allow parents to track the location of their child’s school bus. Operating reserves also are rising to $49 Million, with an additional $29 Million in the building fund reserves, as part of the District’s plan to further raise its credit rating.

“We appreciate the strong support of our School Board and community in meeting our mission of educating the emerging generation,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower. “We are dedicated to serving as responsible stewards of our community’s resources, and this budget shows our focus is exactly where it should be: on the children.”

While State funding increased to cover its portion of a 2% salary increase recommended by the Governor, rising mandated retirement system fees and student enrollment growth, the State continued its “austerity budget reduction” withholding of $4 Million in funds earned by the School District – funding that would have otherwise allowed for greater class size reduction.

Thursday’s meeting also included a presentation on the School District’s new teacher induction program, which will expand professional development, mentoring and collaboration opportunities and extend this support over three years. Data collected through surveys of new teachers hired in the last two years, as well as evaluation results and feedback from administrators, was used to develop the new model.

Dr. Hightower praised the work by curriculum and instruction leaders to develop the initiative, which he believes “will pay significant dividends with our younger teachers” and provide a model for other school districts statewide.

School Board Chair Kyla Cromer and School Board Member Clark Menard both complimented staff on their efforts, especially the program’s extended timeline and varied opportunities for growth and development.

“It’s going to be very helpful for those new teachers,” Ms. Cromer said.

Also on Thursday, the School Board approved the sale of a small parking lot at Hill Circle and Academy Street in downtown Canton to the highest bidder, Harris Development, for $50,000.

The School Board also:

• Recognized CCSD’s School Nutrition Program — winner of two USDA “Best Practices” State Awards and a National Turnip the Beet award;

• Recognized Indian Knoll Elementary School Media Center and Media Specialist Jennifer Lewis, Winner of the 2017 Exemplary Media Program Award, and E.T. Booth Middle School Media Center and Media Specialist Amanda Graves, Winner of the 2017 Exceptional Media Program Award;

• Recognized Teasley MS Special Education Teacher Dr. Jennifer Reynolds for selection as a “Top 10 in 10: Young Professionals to Watch” Award winner;

• Recognized 2016-17 Elementary Science Olympiad Winners;

• Recognized CCSD’s Georgia PTA Reflections Winners;

• Recognized State and Regional Champions including Cherokee HS track team members, Creekview HS boys’ golf team members and the AAAAAAA State Champion Etowah HS baseball team;

• Recognized Etowah High School Class of 2017 graduate Drew Waters — 2016-17 Gatorade Georgia Baseball Player of the Year and USA Today ALL-USA Baseball First Team member, who has been drafted by the Atlanta Braves;

• Approved the renewal of the Partnership Agreement with City of Canton;

• Approved the first reading of recommended updates to School Board Policies and the establishment of a New Debt Management Policy, which was a suggestion by credit rating agencies to further improve CCSD’s credit rating;

• Approved monthly financial and Education SPLOST reports;

• Approved a bid for the annual hairnet purchase through the Georgia Educational Cooperative purchasing program in which CCSD School Nutrition participates;

• Approved out-of-state travel;

• Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;

• Approved the monthly capital outlay projects report;

• Approved special lease agreements;

• Approved granting a permanent easement to the City of Ball Ground for a new streetscape project including sidewalk installation and maintenance;

• Approved monthly personnel recommendations; and,

• Approved the School Board’s annual governance training plan.

School Board Members Mike Chapman and John Harmon were not present for the meeting.

Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 20, 2017


CCSD Publishes Annual Financial Facts Report

The Cherokee County School District has published its annual Financial Facts report, which provides highlights and snapshots from the proposed Annual Budget.

The report is posted online here and provides financial additional information to the community in advance of the School Board’s public hearings and budget adoption.


Cherokee County School Board Reviews Proposed 2017-18 Budget

The School Board on Thursday, May 18, 2017, in preparation for next month’s vote, reviewed the Superintendent’s Recommended 2017-18 Annual Budget, which not only increases the District’s investment in classroom instruction, but also its reserves savings.

Following a preview earlier this month, the School Board spent the business portion of Thursday’s meeting diving into the details of the budget, which includes $382 Million for day-to-day operations, with 86% of that total funding salaries and benefits for CCSD’s 4,500 full-time and 1,000 part-time and at-will employees.

The School Board will hold public hearings on the budget at 11:30 a.m. on June 6 and 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on June 15, with the budget up for a vote at the 7 p.m. regular meeting on June 15; the hearings and the budget all will be held in the CCSD Downtown Center school board auditorium.

The budget, which does not call for a millage increase, directs 71% of day-to-day operating funds to classroom instruction, with new hiring in preparation for anticipated student enrollment growth, continued lowering of average class sizes and new instructional resources for elementary English and language arts classes.

“That’s spectacular,” Assistant Superintendent of Financial Management Ken Owen said of the percentage directed to classrooms, noting it’s a “very tight budget,” but entirely focused on the priorities outlined by the School Board.

State funding did increase, Mr. Owen said, but those monies only covered the State portion of a 2% salary increase recommended by the Governor, hikes in required retirement system fees and costs associated with rises in student enrollment. The State’s continued “austerity budget reduction” withholding of $4 Million owed to the District based on the education funding formula is a pinch that still hurts.

“It’s a significant reduction,” Mr. Owen said of the $4 Million. “We could really use that money to fund more teachers.”

The total budget calls for investing $18.5 Million through the building fund in construction, renovation and technology projects, including the renovation of the Boston Elementary School entrance to ease traffic congestion and the replacement of older computers and devices used by teachers and students. Six more schools will be retrofit with security foyers to tighten visitor security, 19 school buses will be added to the fleet for growth and retirement of older vehicles and a new online GPS system will allow parents to track the location of their child’s school bus.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said the budget also works toward his goal of earning a triple-A credit rating for the District by increasing reserves – the operating budget’s savings account, and paying off bond debt incurred by the rapid construction plan required by the county’s incredible growth over the last two decades.

“We really want that perfect credit rating,” Dr. Hightower said, noting it will greatly reduce costs for insurance and borrowing and enhance overall financial stability. “Setting aside more reserve funds and staying focused on retiring debt may keep us from moving forward on every innovation we’d like to see in our schools, but it’s just as important an investment.”

To that end, the budget calls for shifting half a mill in the tax rate from operating to debt service, as well as increasing the proposed operating reserves to $49 Million, with an additional $29 Million in the building fund reserves.

The Board during its meeting Thursday also approved monthly personnel recommendations including the appointment of Nate Cline, currently a teacher on special assignment to assist with administration at Etowah High School, to serve as an Assistant Principal at Creekland Middle School next school year.

In a surprise announcement, Dr. Hightower presented the third of his four inaugural “Superintendent’s Game Changer Awards,” with the recognition for Instructional Advocacy presented to Lisa-Marie Haygood, a longtime outstanding advocate for CCSD schools as a PTA volunteer and leader at the local, regional and State level including past service as Georgia PTA President.

The School Board also:

• Heard presentations from Student Advisor Joseph Henderson of ACE Academy and Cherokee HS Student Delegate Julia Kochansky on their experience serving and their post-graduation plans;

• Dr. Kecia Ray, Executive Director for the Center for Digital Education, presented to CCSD and Assistant Superintendent of Technology Bobby Blount a plaque in recognition of CCSD being named for the 12th time to the nation’s “Top 10” of large school systems effectively using technology in education;

• Recognized Holly Springs ES STEM Academy teacher Lauren Pittman and her students for their featured role in Microsoft national campaign and commercial;

• Recognized Woodstock ES teacher Kristen Brooks as an Apple Distinguished Educator;

• Recognized Creekview HS Athletic Director/Assistant Principal Dr. Kevin Higgins as an inductee into Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame;

• Recognized Etowah HS junior Joseph Young as winner of a 2017 Junior Travel Award for Outstanding Achievement on National Spanish Examination;

• Recognized 2016-17 Social Studies Fair District, Regional and State Winners;

• Recognized 2016-17 Young Georgia Authors Writing Competition Winners;

• Recognized Avery ES as 2016-17 Elementary School County Academic Bowl Team Champions;

• Recognized State and Regional Champions

• Recognized 2016-17 Student Advisor to School Board and Student Delegates for their service;

• Recognized recipients of 2017 Aramark Education Scholarships;

• Approved a Partnership Agreement with Tri-State Communications (which includes WLJA 101.1 FM and Enjoy! Cherokee magazine) that includes Student of the Day and Game of the Week recognitions, as well as a public service campaign to raise awareness of bus traffic laws and sharing the road safely with school buses;

• Adopted a House Bill 306 Resolution to move forward with the State Legislature’s approval to change the School Board compensation model effective January 2019;

• Approved the final reading of updates to personnel and student harassment policies;

• Approved monthly financial and Education SPLOST reports;

• Approved out-of-state travel;

• Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;

• Approved monthly capital outlay projects report;

• Approved special lease agreements;

• Approved annual update of 2017-18 Student Discipline Code; and,

• Met in Executive Session to review a student discipline matter.

Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, June 15, 2017


School Board Hears Budget Forecast Including Enrollment Growth Projections

Woodstock High School senior A.J. Cox is congratulated by the School Board, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower and Marla Price of Waste Management as the winner of the 2017 Waste Management/Pine Bluff Landfill Scholarship of $5,000. The scholarship was presented by Waste Management, a CCSD Partner, at the May 4, 2017 School Board meeting.

The School Board on Thursday, May 4, 2017, heard a budget forecast from the Superintendent of Schools that funds student enrollment growth and continues class size reductions.

The highlights outlined during the Strategic Work Session will be followed up by release of the full recommended Annual Budget later this month, with public hearings scheduled for June 6 and 15 and a vote to approve the budget on June 15.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower noted the proposed budget does not call for a millage rate increase, but sustains CCSD’s financial focus on the classroom, with the hiring of 61 teachers and school-based staff to address projected enrollment growth and continued class size reduction.

Even with an anticipated 572 additional students, CCSD plans to lower class size further to an average of 20 students in kindergarten through third-grade classes and 26 in fourth- and fifth-grade… significantly smaller, on average, than allowed class sizes of 26 for kindergarten, 28 for Grades 1-3 and 35 for Grades 4-5.

Dr. Hightower said this trend is very impressive given that the State still has not restored $4 million in “austerity budget reductions,” with limited new funding earmarked by the Governor specifically for teacher salary increases. Despite financial constraints, the proposed budget for CCSD not only meets the cost-of-living salary increase in the State’s base compensation for teachers, but also extends it to all eligible employees, increases the local supplement for a true 2% raise and funds longevity step increases.

“This is very important,” Assistant Superintendent for Financial Management Ken Owen said of the significant investment in employee compensation, noting that salary is just one piece of the pie paid by CCSD, as health insurance, retirement system and other related costs funded by the District continue to soar. But, he added, it’s an expense that school districts cannot shortchange. “A teacher hiring shortage is looming ahead.”

Due to CCSD’s historical record of strong compensation packages for employees, even during the recent Recession, the District has not faced challenges in hiring like some other metro school systems. The School Board on Thursday also received an excerpt from the forthcoming Financial Facts report, which is produced by CCSD staff to provide employees and the community with budget highlights (available online here), and further details these personnel costs.

The Superintendent shared several other hints about his recommended Annual Budget now being finalized including additional investments in safety and security and learning resources.

The budget calls for funding to retrofit six more schools with security foyers that further regulate access by visitors. Transportation will see two major improvements: the previously announced plan to transition to smaller Special Education preschool buses that are lower to the ground and easier to drive, and the introduction of a new GPS system for all CCSD buses that will allow parents to track their child’s bus using an online tool.

A major investment of $3 million will upgrade CCSD’s English and Language Arts elementary school instructional resources for the first time in a decade, mirroring the update of math resources completed this school year.

Cherokee High School senior Zachary Quiros is congratulated by the School Board, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower and Oak Leaf Church Pastor Will Goodwin as the winner of the 2017 Oak Leaf Church Scholarship of $1,000. The scholarship was presented by the Church, a CCSD Partner, at the May 4, 2017 School Board meeting.

The School Board also:

• Heard plans by the Superintendent to introduce a new “Superintendent’s Game Changer Award,” which annually will recognize four outstanding employees or supporters who have made significant contributions to instructional excellence. The inaugural awards will be presented later this month;

• Heard a presentation from Student Delegate Isabelle Riddle of Sequoyah HS, who this week was named one of only 160 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the nation!

• Recognized Sixes Elementary School as a Common Sense Certified School for Digital Citizenship;

• Recognized CCSD’s 2017 Georgia Scholars;

• Recognized CCSD’s 2016-17 Governor’s Honors Finalists;

• Recognized Nathan Baker of Etowah HS for winning the Award of Excellence from the Georgia Department of Education;

• Recognized CCSD’s 2016-17 Regional Science and Engineering Fair Winners;

• Recognized CCSD seventh-graders who earned Grand or State recognition from Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP);

• Recognized CCSD’s Tome Student Literacy Society Students named State Champions;

• Recognized Region and State athletic and arts champions including the Cherokee HS Region Champions girls basketball team and Sequoyah HS State Literary competition winners;

• Recognized Cherokee HS senior Zachary Quiros as recipient of the 2017 Oak Leaf Church Scholarship of $1,000;

• Recognized Woodstock HS senior A.J. Cox as recipient of the 2017 Waste Management/Pine Bluff Landfill Scholarship of $5,000;

• Approved the first reading of updates to personnel and student harassment policies;

• Approved monthly financial and Education SPLOST reports;

• Approved out-of-state travel;

• Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;

• Approved annual plan for improvement of career, technical and agricultural education and one-year funding application for submission to the State; and,

• Approved monthly personnel recommendations.

Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, May 18, 2017