The Cherokee County Board of Education on June 13 tabled the coming school year’s superintendent’s proposed budget for review. The millage rate to Cherokee County taxpayers is recommended to remain the same, although the value of the digest has risen slightly.
However, to balance the budget, an additional $7.16 million in cuts is necessary in addition to ongoing cuts of
$22.8 million made last year.
In the proposed budget, a plan is outlined to outsource custodial services; under the Request for Proposals the school district issued, all school district custodial employees will be hired by the contractor selected for service, and they will be provided benefits. Since the transition is planned to occur as school gets under way for the new school year, Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo predicts the move will save the district $3 million next year — enough to eliminate two additional furlough days. The proposal includes four furlough days next school year, down from eight during the school year just completed. This adjusts the 2012-2013 calendar to 179 days, one short of the full 180 days of instruction; last year’s calendar included the loss of five instructional days.
The $496.2 million proposed budget includes a general fund of $321.9 million and a building fund of $89.5 million.
A custodial provider will be selected at the July 24 school board meeting. Specific details will be negotiated at that time. In regard to outsourcing, Petruzielo said, “This is not something we want to do, this is something we have to do. The cost of maintaining state health insurance has become astronomical.”
He said the current custodial employees would be better protected under the outsourcing arrangement than by making some employees part-time district employees, causing them to lose their eligibility for health insurance.
“Any full-time, part-time model that would cause employees to lose benefits throws folks to the wolves,” Petruzielo explained.
The state Department of Community Health recently decided to stop contributing $400 million to fund part of the coverage for non-certified public school employees that participate in the state health plan, leaving the district an increase of almost $4 million to the school board to pay those contributions.
The cost to the school district for insuring non-certified employees through state health insurance has risen from $2.9 million in the 2008-2009 budget year to $7.6 million this year.
“Since the primary mission of the school district is teaching and learning, the vast majority of our fiscal recommendations continue to be directed toward this mission,” he said.
Board Vice-Chair Robert Wofford commended CCSD’s custodial employees on the job they have done, saying, “We have the cleanest schools anywhere I’ve visited.”
Post 5 School Board Member Rob Usher said the decision to outsource custodial was a difficult one.
“I think it’s the right thing to do, though,” he said.
Grounds maintenance services also will be contracted out. At the meeting, board members unanimously approved Seasonal Designs to provide the service for $499,980. Eight district employees are affected; two are retiring and the rest will be offered other jobs within the district. The school district estimates it will save $100,000 by the arrangement.
Petruzielo noted that even though a stabilization of the tax digest will allow for more local revenue this year for the first time in several years due to the recession, the district will still take in less local revenue than it did in 2005.
“We now have 5,800 more students enrolled than we did in 2005,” he added.
Petruzielo told the board it was “really good news” that revenue was starting to go up, noting that, due to the recession, the district has lost more than $172 million in state Qualified Basic Education earnings and $31 million in local funds.
“We’re still not totally clear on the impact of the new vehicle ad valorem tax,” he said. “But, we have been guaranteed the same amount of revenue for two years.”
He also thanked the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners for voting last month to reduce the fee the county Tax Commissioner’s Office charges for processing school board property taxes, bringing the charge down to 2 percent by 2015.
The budget also recommends funding both state and local longevity step increases for all employees.
“That should go a long way to address the impact of the furlough days,” Petruzielo said, noting he wants employees to know their experience is valued by the district.
The budget for the coming year shows that 66 percent is related directly to school instruction and another 2.13 percent is devoted to other support services that have a direct impact on students.
The school board is required by law to table the budget for public review.
The vote to lay the budget on the table passed six to one, Post 1 Board Member Kelly Marlow dissenting.
The budget is set to be considered for final approval by the board at a July 24 public meeting after public advertisement. The Executive Summary of the 2013-14 Tentative Budget, as well as supplemental information regarding its development process, is now available under “Budget Development” on the School District’s Open Government Project Web page at www.cherokee.k12.ga.us/departments/pr/OGP. The line-item budget will be available for review in the central office in about a week, Petruzielo said, as soon as the Tax Commissioner’s office hones its collection figures.
ET Booth to open on Aug. 5
The new replacement E.T. Booth Middle School will open at the start of the school year on Aug. 5, Petruzielo announced.
“Based on the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy we plan to move forward with the opening of E.T. Booth at the beginning of the year,” he said. “It’s on time and under budget like all the other schools we have built over the past 15 years.”
At a January work session, Petruzielo informed school board members that the replacement E.T. Booth may not be ready for occupancy at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, and that students might have to move into the building halfway through the school year.
The general contractor for the project, Manhattan Construction, was challenged because some of the firm’s subcontractors gave the general contractor stated prices without taking into consideration that federally-mandated employee wage scales had to be followed because the project is financed with federal stimulus funds. The situation had an overall effect of slowing progress down, but the situation has been resolved.
CCSD had developed a contingency plan, but the plan now will not be necessary. All sixth-, seventh- and eighth graders in the Etowah Innovation Zone will attend the new middle school; the number of students is estimated at 1,621. Final preparations for opening are under way, and a new traffic flow for the Etowah, E.T. Booth campus is being designed so that student drivers have clear lines of ingress and egress and high-school students may take courses in the Chapman annex (former Chapman Intermediate School).
The Chapman Annex is set for completion by mid-year. Demolition on the old E.T. Booth school will begin in July and be completed by late fall. Bricks will be saved to be ground up and used for a parking lot at the nearby bus barn.
In other business, the board:
• unanimously approved the final reading of a board policy change to add a description of job duties and responsibilities of the board chair and vice-chair;
• approved, 4-3, the final reading of a board policy change recognizing the school board’s longtime practice of not establishing or serving on its own standing ad-hoc committees; it also outlines opportunities for public involvement; Usher, Post 3 School Board Member Michael Geist, and Post 1 School Board Member Kelly Marlow dissenting;
• unanimously approved the first reading of a board policy change to reflect state changes regarding transferring credit; and
• approved, 5-2, the first reading of the annual technical modifications and rescindments to board policies; Geist and Marlow dissenting. During discussion of this item, several members of the public spoke both for and against the inclusion of common core standards in the state curriculum. Petruzielo suggested that, as a state decision, a common core discussion should be carried out at a state, rather than local board, level.