CANTON — The Cherokee County Board of Education approved a $496.2 million 2013-14 budget at Wednesday’s meeting, in the process restoring the district to a 180-day school calendar and outsourcing custodial services.
The budget was approved by a 6-1 vote, with board member Kelly Marlow opposed, and was followed by a standing ovation by the record crowd of about 1,000 people at the Cherokee High School auditorium.
The $496.2 million budget is down from the $518.7 million in 2012-13, and there was no millage increase, keeping the rate at 19.85. The largest portion of the budget, the general fund for day-to-day operation of the school system, is up slightly from $321.1 million to $321.9 million for 2013-14.
“I’m pleased to note that the budget is based on no millage rate increase, as has been the case for 14 of the last 15 years, and that our millage rate remains below the rollback rate,” Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo said. “Meaning the average property owner will not see a significant increase in the school portion of his or her tax bill, and there is no ‘back-door’ tax increase.”
Petruzielo announced at the meeting that the final budget would restore the full 180-day calendar for students, reducing furlough days from eight to three. He said restoring the calendar fulfilled the “school board’s No. 1 budget goal to provide as much time for teaching and learning as possible.”
Petruzielo and his staff provided everyone at the meeting with a frequently-asked questions handout about the annual budget, which included basic facts.
“Cherokee County property owners have seen a 29 percent decrease in property values and corresponding tax decrease for the period of 2008-12 during which the school district saw an 8 percent enrollment increase,” the FAQ handout read.
Some of the more than $7.1 million in cuts to the budget include saving $3.7 million by outsourcing custodial services, saving $1.7 million by not filling teaching vacancies created by retirement or resignation, and saving $1.5 million by reducing support staff and paraprofessionals.
At the meeting, the school board voted to allow Petruzielo to negotiate a custodial services contract with Aramark company that will include full-time employment for all CCSD custodial employees. The contract will also include additional benefits, including health care insurance.
On Thursday, schools spokesperson Barbara Jacoby said CCSD-employed custodians will become Aramark employees, but added that “some may decide to retire to preserve their state health benefit plan.”
School Board Vice Chair Robert Wofford and Board Member Patsy Jordan said at the meeting that they spent time reviewing the options for custodians.
“My primary concern was for the employees and which company would be the best for our employees,” Wofford said. “We’ve got the cleanest schools, none are better. Is this the best option we can give you? I think it is.”
Petruzielo said that the district would not have to cut their contributions to employee’s dental and long-term disability benefits, like they had previously planned. He also recommended establishing a districtwide graduation coach position.
“(The position) will be charged with identifying and implementing best practices to ensure that more of our students graduate within four years and that our graduation rate is reported accurately to the state,” Petruzielo said at the meeting. “This position goes hand-in-hand with the new Ad Hoc Graduation Rate Committee that was established this month.”
Petruzielo said the new outlet mall in Woodstock and construction on the new Northside Hospital-Cherokee, along with other development, is anticipated to increase Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue.
“That will help us more quickly retire the debt that has been incurred from building 20 new schools and facilities, renovating and expanding an equal number and upgrading technology district-wide,” Petruzielo said.
The superintendent said he appreciated receiving questions and suggestions about the budget from Board Chair Janet Read, Wofford, citizens, and board members Jordan and Rick Steiner.
Petruzielo thanked the community for supporting the school district.
“Thank you to all of our students and parents for bearing this hardship for the past year. We know many of our parents work full-time and that they had to change their schedules to care for their children on the five school days we canceled due to state ‘austerity budget cuts’ and local tax digest declines,” Petruzielo said. “Thank you to our teachers for managing to teach more with less time and to all of our employees for enduring a significant eight-day pay cut for the past year, especially our families with both heads of household working in our schools.”