The proposed budget, recommended by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo, includes lowering class size in kindergarten through fifth-grade.
“Since we began several years ago suffering the annual one-two punch of state ‘austerity budget cuts’ and a dramatically declining local property tax digest, the School Board set three priorities to address when revenue began to improve: reinstate the 180-day school calendar for students; eliminate furlough days for employees; and decrease class size,” Petruzielo said.
Last school year, the district restored the 180-day calendar for students and reduced employee furlough days, Petruzielo said.
“Initial tax digest estimates indicated that we could begin chipping away at class size for kindergarten through third grade; today, I can recommend that we do the same for the fourth and fifth-grades,” Petruzielo said.
The general, or day-to-day operating fund, is the largest of the funds in the proposed budget.
In the proposed budget for 2014-15, the general fund accounts for $347.7 million, up from $321.1 million last school year.
School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said the decreases in class size and other improvements are possible without raising the operating budget’s millage rate because the local tax digest grew and state budget cuts were lowered for the first time in years.
“Some property owners will see higher tax bills, but only if the value of their property significantly increased. It should also be noted that the total value of the digest is now near the same level as it was in 2006, while CCSD has enrolled an additional 4,400 students since that time,” Jacoby said.
Petruzielo said the lowered state cuts are beneficial for the district, but explained there are still significant challenges with funding.
“For the coming school year, we’re finally able to take some positive steps to trim class size for elementary school grades, and that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t get us back to 2006 class size, and it doesn’t allow us to make a dent in middle and high school class size,” he said.
Petruzielo added the local district appreciates the return of some state funds, and looks forward to state funding continuing to be restored.
“We need the governor and state legislature to build upon what they started this year with ‘austerity budget cut’ reductions and show the people of Georgia that public education and the future of Georgia’s children truly is their top priority,” he said.
The building fund is proposed at $88.8 million, down from $94.6 million last school year. The building fund is responsible for projects such as the construction of the replacement Dean Rusk Middle School, renovations to the athletic field at Cherokee High School and other improvements.
As part of the proposed budget, the superintendent recommends hiring 69 additional teachers to reduce class size and hiring 196 teachers to meet growth and vacancy demands; restoring school nurses to six-hour days; restoring school police staffing to reflect student population growth; adding 10 bus drivers to address growth; providing a “one-half teacher” graduation coach at each high school; eliminating the remaining three furlough days for employees; funding annual longevity step raises for eligible employees; and funding a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for eligible employees.
The first budget hearing will be during tonight’s school board meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the historic Canton High School Board Auditorium, at 111 Academy St. in Canton.
Additional public budget hearings will be held at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 9, and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23, in the historic Canton High School Board Auditorium, Jacoby added. The board will vote on the proposed budget at 7 p.m. July 23.
The Executive Summary of the budget, which is included in the meeting agenda, can be found online at http://portal.cherokee.k12.ga.us/board/meetings/061914/default.aspx.