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The Grady County Board of Education began its work on the 2020-2021 operating budget in earnest Thursday night during a budget workshop meeting. The spending plan, as proposed, totals $38,380,986.29, just over $1 million less than the 2019-2020 fiscal year’s budget.
Fearing upwards of $4 million in revenue cuts earlier in the year, Dr. Kermit Gilliard, school superintendent, and Dan Broome, school system finance officer, reported that the budget they have proposed would not require an increase in ad valorem taxes, but will require a transfer of approximately $1 million from the school system’s cash reserves to balance the books.
“Mr. Broome has done an excellent job considering all the cuts we’ve had, and unless you add a lot to the budget, it won’t require a millage increase,” Dr. Gilliard said.
Other than having less money to operate the schools on, Broome says the preparation of the 2020-2021 budget was “as simple as it gets.”
One thing that has not changed is that 85-90 percent of the system’s operating budget is used for salary and benefits for school system personnel.
The proposed expenditures exceed the projected revenue for the new fiscal year by just over $995,000, but Broome notes that the budget also includes approximately $885,000 in debt service, which is a new expense added to the budget and is part of the school system’s contract with A.B.M., which guarantees savings in energy costs sufficient to fund the debt service.
The school system’s finance officer noted that without revenue cuts from the state, the system would have realized a budget surplus even after budgeting the payments to A.B.M., which he said was the hope from the beginning.
“So, we are meeting our savings goal?” board member John White asked. Broome said that A.B.M. has not completed the installation of controls to the air conditioning units and the system has not paid A.B.M. all of the money that is due once the project is completed. Broome said he suspects much of the savings to-date is a result of schools having been closed since mid-March.
The austerity cuts from the state for fiscal year 2020-2021 total approximately $2.7 million, through budget cuts made by the superintendent, the budget was reduced approximately $500,000, and the system received a $600,000 boost from the federal government’s pandemic stimulus legislation that covered cuts to teachers’ salaries. The finance officer said the remainder of the shortfall could come from cash reserves.
As Broome is closing out the books for fiscal year 2019-2020, he told board members last week he anticipates ending the last fiscal year with a surplus of between $800,000 and $1 million. “What we are short in 2021 we are banking in 2020,” Broome said.
“So, we still are not actually touching our reserves,” board member White said.
“He does it every year,” commented board member Jeff Worsham. White added, “I don’t know how, but he does.”
“If the cuts had been in the $4 million range, we would have had a problem, but with just $2 million we were able to manage it,” Broome said.
The school system’s finance officer said that some citizens had questioned the need for the system to have such a large reserve, but he noted that it takes approximately $3.3 million per month to operate the system, so if the system had to rely completely on its reserves to operate, the school system would be out of business in less than two months.
“The reason we try to have significant reserves is for a year like this year. We have the option to use reserves and not have to furlough employees or have a tax increase,” Broome said.
“There are plenty of systems in this state who wish they were in as good a financial shape as we are in. No cuts to salaries or supplements and no furloughs, that’s tremendous,” Worsham said.
“A very big positive at the moment,” said board vice chairman Derrick Majors, who presided in the absence of Chairwoman Teresa Gee Hardy, who participated via conference call.
This was the board’s first meeting on the proposed budget and during the discussion last Thursday night some revisions were also discussed.
Dr. Gilliard told the board he was hopeful that approval to include two instructional technologists could be funded in the budget. All of the details are yet to be worked out, but the superintendent indicated he may could cover the cost of one of the positions by transferring an existing staff member. The board questioned the cost of the second position and Broome said it was basically like adding another teacher salary and benefits to the budget.
According to Dr. Gilliard, the instructional technologists will work with local teachers on effective ways of teaching via online instruction and best practices for utilizing technology in the classroom.
The superintendent said Tuesday that a number of people had already shown interest in the two positions and he would seek people who had training in this field and who are Google classroom certified.
Dr. Gilliard also said that every certified employee in the system, from himself and down the line, is required to complete the coursework to become Google classroom certified and all personnel must take the certification test by Dec. 1. Although all personnel are required to take the test, there is no penalty for those who may not pass it by Dec. 1.
In other business, the board:
• Approved the hiring of the following personnel: Barbara Douglas – teacher at Eastside Elementary School; Jackie Robinson – custodian at Whigham Elementary School; Daniel Coleman – P.E. teacher at Northside Elementary School; and Daniel Joiner – teacher at Crossroads.
• Approved the following transfers: Michelle Poitevint – from parapro at Eastside to teacher at Eastside; Kiara Jones – from Eastside teacher to Birth-5 Early Intervention Coach countywide; Erin Simpson – from instructional coordinator at Shiver to K-8 Literacy Intervention Coach/Grant Supervisor countywide; Nicole Lamoute – from central office receptionist to teacher at Crossroads; Brandon Byram – teacher at Crossroads to P.E. teacher at Cairo High School; and Rachel Griner from teacher at Northside to ESOL teacher at Northside.