Decrease in schools budget still provides for staff raises

No tax increase projected



FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – The Fulton School Board is poised to adopt a budget for next year that accomplishes what few other metro systems can do – decrease spending while adding more students, one additional day to the school calendar and a raise for all employees.

The $1.17 billion budget for fiscal year 2014 is a 0.6 percent decrease from last year’s budget, and includes a 3 percent raise for all employees and no change in the millage rate for taxpayers. Staff members who take on additional duties, such as coaching or academic clubs, will also receive a 10 percent increase.

The Fulton School Board did not fund step increases, which are scheduled bumps in pay as a result of years of service.

Board member Katie Reeves noted during her monthly meeting that to fund both a step increase for certain employees and a raise for all employees this year was not financially possible.

Local schools will also see a significant boost in the “per pupil allocation,” which are flexible funds to be used as the schools decide. For the past several years, that rate has been set at $91 per student. Next year, that figure will jump to $178 per student, with the increase coming out of the system’s healthy reserve funds.

Reeves explained the per pupil allocation will be revisited each year and will be determined based on the financial picture, although the rate will never drop below $91. Schools use the funds in various ways, ranging from supplemental instructional resources to professional development and training.

After a 30-day review period, the Fulton School Board was scheduled to adopt the final budget on June 4, to go into effect on July 1.

The positive financial situation is a direct result, say school officials, of belt tightening in previous years. Beginning in 2007, when the economy began sinking, reductions were made in several areas to reduce recurring expenses. Programs such as elementary band and orchestra were cut, class sizes grew, the school year was shortened by three days and hundreds of staff members were let go to balance budgets.

But despite the decrease in budget this year, School Superintendent Robert Avossa said the quality of the schools will not be impacted.

“I feel confident that this budget will serve the district’s growing needs and keep our focus on students,” said Avossa. “The school board’s fiscal oversight and diligence has made Fulton County Schools one of the most financially stable school systems in Georgia.”

Among the metro systems facing tough financial decisions are Cobb County Schools, which is looking at five furlough days for staff and cutting 182 teaching positions, and Gwinnett Schools, which will likely raise the millage rate for next year.

For the 2013-2014 school year, nearly 70 percent of Fulton’s school budget will be centered on instruction, with the remaining funds dedicated to pupil transportation, maintenance and operations and other administrative functions.

The budget also accommodates funding for about 1,000 new students expected for next year, rising healthcare costs and contributions to the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. It also adds back one more day as the system works to bring the school calendar back up to 180 days. Next year, the school year will have 178 days.

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