The Clarke County School District’s proposed 2020 budget includes funding for an assistant police chief and new positions focused on student behavior—partially funded by cuts to grants to individual schools to meet their specific needs.
Thanks to rising property values and increased state funding, the $164 million budget is $14 million bigger than the current fiscal year, but much of that money will be eaten up by health care and pension expenses. Still, the budget does include about a dozen new positions:
• $36,000 for an athletic trainer, partially funded by Piedmont Athens Regional over the next three years.
• $43,000 for an English Speakers of Other Languages secretary to assist the ESOL coordinator in addressing the achievement gap among ESOL students, who make up 16 percent of the district’s student population.
• $75,000 for Communities in Schools site coordinators at Alps Road and Gaines elementary schools. They will work to connect schools with surrounding communities and students and parents with services.
• $100,000 for the assistant police chief.
• a community support specialist to ensure “all stakeholders are connected to schools and have a voice in the decision-making process.”
• $450,000 for “social emotional staff,” including making two part-time nurses full-time, another part-time special education nurse, two counselors, a school psychologist, a school social worker and two behavior specialists.
The social emotional staff would be partially funded by cutting the “innovation grants” available to Local School Governance Teams from $450,000 to $150,000. Superintendent Demond Means told the Board of Education at a May 23 meeting that social-emotional learning (SEL) is a higher priority. “I can’t go out in the community without people saying we need more people in this space,” he said.
The LSGTs—made up of elected parents, teachers, community members, administrators and, at the high-school level, students—were created as part of CCSD’s agreement with the state in 2016 to become a charter district, where more decisions are made at the school rather than district level. Innovation grants are meant to provide a pot of money to deal with school-specific issues or priorities.
“I’m really disappointed that we’re losing this, and that the governance teams weren’t part of the discussion,” said board member Tawana Mattox. Board President LaKeisha Gantt said she is concerned some schools’ LSGTs will be left out.
Means said he has the authority to cut the grants under state law because the funds will be used to improve student achievement, and the system is ultimately responsible for managing the additional funding charter districts receive from the state..
$150,000 will still be available for LSGT grants, Means said, and principals will be trained on how to apply. He is also encouraging schools to partner with neighboring schools on grant applications.
“The grant process isn’t going away. It’s getting a little more competitive,” he said. “The feedback we’re getting from our principals, they’re struggling to find things to spend the money on.”
When asked to prioritize the proposed new SEL staff, Means said he already has—fully funding what principals say they need would cost $1.5 million.
Some board members also questioned the hiring of an assistant police chief. CCSD currently employs a chief and four other sworn officers, while the Athens-Clarke County Police Department posts a school resource officer at each of the district’s six middle and high schools.
“I could imagine people saying that’s a lot of chiefs for not enough tribe, so to speak,” board member John Knox said.
CCSD officers roam among schools. Chief Mark Sizemore is stretched thin, and if something happens, like a fight breaking out at one school, there’s no one to fill in if another incident happens at the same time somewhere else, Means said.
The assistant chief would be responsible for improving traffic flow, inspecting facilities and training officers on bullying, sexting, gang identification and de-escalation strategies.
CCSD’s officers also have unique training, Means said, noting that last week Sizemore was at a conference learning about how teenagers’ brains work. “Police officers from ACCPD, they’re trained differently. It makes the work difficult,” he said. “We can find the right SROs, but sometimes you don’t find the right SROs.”
At a public hearing on the budget Tuesday at Alps, one attendee questioned Means and Chief Financial Officer Larry Hammel on the expense. The $100,000 figure includes a salary of about $70,000 plus benefits, and is similar to what CCSD budgets for a teacher, they said.
Means is also proposing 2 percent raises for classified personnel (non-teachers). Teachers will receive $3,000 raises from the state for the 2019–2020 school year, and aren’t slated for local raises.
Another initiative Means is proposing is to hire a Jackson County company to provide substitute teachers. CCSD is only able to fill about 60 percent of its substitute needs. Outsourcing would cost $250,000.
Means also wants to bring alternative education back in-house, at a $425,000 expense. The district privatized educating students who had been suspended from regular classrooms in 2010, then switched companies from Ombudsman to Catapult Learning two years ago. The additional funding would allow CCSD to expand the school day from 4 to 7 hours, provide transportation to more students, and increase SEL and middle-school staff.
Two more public hearings on the budget are scheduled: at Gaines today and at the H.T. Edwards Building on Tuesday, June 4. Both start at 5:30 p.m. The school board is scheduled to approve the budget at its June 13 meeting.
More information on the budget is available here.