Cherokee County School Board Reviews Proposed 2017-18 Budget

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