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More Furloughs for Clarke County Teachers

Last April, Clarke County School Superintendent Phil Lanoue told the Board of Education it would have to lay off about 100 employees (mostly teachers and parapros) and slash $9 million from the district’s budget due to declining property taxes and state austerity cuts—and even then, the budget wouldn’t balance. He warned that even worse cuts could be coming, predicting a $10 million shortfall in fiscal 2014 while the district’s reserve funds dwindled to $5 million.

The worst hasn’t come to pass, but Lanoue is still recommending more major reductions to next year’s budget.

Lanoue briefed the school board on the 2014 budget Thursday night. The revenue picture is improving, but not enough to avoid additional cuts.

After three years of declining property values, officials expect the tax digest to level off this year. And Gov. Nathan Deal has restored some of the austerity cuts put into place during the Great Recession. State funding for CCSD will increase from $47.1 million to $48.5 million next year. The district expects to collect $116 million in fiscal 2014.

But that’s not enough to keep pace with expenses administrators have no control over, such as health care costs, worker’s comp and mandated step increases in pay. Without any cuts, CCSD would spend $125 million next year.

Lanoue is proposing a $121 million budget that includes five furlough days for all employees (the same number as last year) and seven for those making more than $80,000 a year. The furloughs will save nearly $3 million. 

Restructuring the central office would save more than $300,000 and eliminating some school staff will save almost $700,000. Lanoue said he hopes to avoid any layoffs after teachers sign their contracts for the coming school year, instead reducing positions by attrition, but 10 high school teachers could be on the chopping block.

The remaining gap would be plugged with $4 million from CCSD’s $17.8 million fund balance, which didn’t shrink as much as expected over the past year because revenue was higher than anticipated and spending was lower than what was budgeted.

Lanoue will present a tentative budget to the board next Thursday, and they’ll take a preliminary vote April 18. Then there will be public hearings–May 14 at Gaines Elementary School, May 16 at Alps Road Elementary School and May 21 at the central office on Timothy Road; all three at 6 p.m.–before a final vote June 6.