We won’t know how many furlough days and how many school days will be part of the next Cobb County school year until the Cobb Board of Education passes the final fiscal 2013 budget May 17.
The school board delved into the Cobb County School District’s fiscal woes during Wednesday’s work session. Most of the talk was long-term, big-picture stuff: the state’s role in putting Cobb in a budget hole; the likelihood of next year’s budget being much tougher; the effects of state charter schools; the declining educational opportunities in the county; and the need for a dramatically different educational model.
“We are not providing the education that Cobb County expects, and we’ve got to find another way,” Post 7 board member Alison Bartlett said.
But board members opted to wait until next week’s regular meeting to sort out the immediate issues for the budget going into effect July 1, including picking a calendar that fits the chosen number of furlough days.
What's your preference: fewer furlough days or more fund balance?
District Chief Financial Officer Mike Addison presented the same budget for final approval that the board passed on a preliminary basis April 26. It includes five furlough days, 175 instructional days, a half-year delay in teacher raises, 350 fewer teachers and reduced hours for library paraprofessionals, among other steps to balance the $841.9 million plan.
Attrition has taken care of 325 of the 350 teaching positions being cut, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. The 25 extra teachers right now are all in elementary schools; if 25 elementary teachers don’t leave in the next couple of months, limited layoffs are possible, beginning with those rated unsatisfactory for their job performance.
Addison laid out the extra costs associated with switching to three furlough days and 177 days in class, as well restoring elementary school parapros to full time. Doing all of those things would cost $7.1 million, which would come out of the school district’s fund balance.
“We’d be in danger of possibly borrowing money to make payroll” if the school board adopted those options, Hinojosa said.
The school system runs into a cash-flow crunch each fall before property tax payments are made in October. The fund balance gives the district the flexibility to get through the lean period.
The balance now is just under $100 million, but the 2013 budget calls for spending $21.2 million of that to close a deficit. Spending an additional $7.1 million would cut the fund balance to about $71 million or $72 million, roughly what the Cobb school district spends each month, creating a possible need for short-term borrowing.
Bartlett indicated she won’t support the 177-day budget because of that risk, but she didn’t say for sure.
Northeast and East Cobb’s David Banks was definitive: He won’t vote for any version of the budget because he wants to make deeper use of reserves to avoid furloughs.
West Cobb’s Lynnda Eagle asked for the three-furlough-day budget and has made her preference for that plan clear.
We’ll see next Thursday how the rest of the board shakes out on the question of three furlough days or five.