Decatur School Board Reviews Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Cuts and Staffing Increases – Decaturish

Decatur, Georgia — Amid a low reserve fund balance, City Schools of Decatur has struggled to find areas to save money and cut costs without cutting teaching staff. The school district also wants to give employees a raise.

Chief Financial Officer Lonita Broome and Superintendent Maggie Fehrman presented the draft budget for fiscal year 2023 at the March 8 school board meeting, which reflects $3.8 million in operational budget cuts.

CDD’s current fiscal year, 2022, ends on June 30 and fiscal year 2023 begins on July 1. The next budget must be approved by July 1.

The school system budget is divided into four categories: the school nutrition revenue budget, the special revenue budget, the capital projects budget, and the general fund budget.

The draft general fund budget for FY23 projects to receive approximately $85 million in revenue and spend the same amount, reflecting a balanced budget. The District’s fund balance, its reserve fund, is expected to have an initial balance of $5.6 million and an expected ending balance of $6.1 million.

The fund balance is also reviewed in terms of the percentage of general fund expenditures from reserves and must be at least 4%. The base budget for fiscal year 2023 projected that the fund balance would be $2.1 million and 2.45% of expenditures by the end of the fiscal year. The FY23 preliminary budget projects the fund balance to end at 7.17%.

Salaries and benefits are the largest expenses of the general fund. The district expects enrollment to decline by approximately 143 students, so to reduce the budget, staff will be affected.

The preliminary budget allocates approximately $51.7 million for salaries and $24.2 million for benefits. The salary line item will be reduced by approximately $1.4 million, but all staff reductions are the result of vacancies not being filled through natural attrition. The staff budget for the Wilson Center (central office) will also decrease by approximately $553,000.

“Thanks to the brain child of game-changing Dr. Fehrman, we are able to eliminate positions, not people, and we will continue to provide schools with the level of support they need,” Broome said.

The general fund considers a one-time bonus of $2,000 that the CSD will give to its full-time employees and a $1,000 bonus to part-time employees according to Gov. Brian Kemp’s state budget. The State Senate is adding language to the spending bill stating that the state will provide the bonus to school personnel, which will reduce the financial impact on the CSD budget.

Teachers, bus drivers, school nutrition officers, caretakers and nurses will receive this bonus.

“Staff paid on the teacher pay scale will receive the $2,000 increase and a step increase. All other employees will receive a step increase,” Broome said. “With the changes made by the Senate to the current FY2022 amended budget, which allocated supplements to all personnel in specified categories and added categories of guards and nurses, the final balance of the fund will increase, it so this is a conservative projection for FY23.”

CSD also significantly complements the College Heights Early Learning Program. Fehrman created a 15% tuition increase that will be implemented over three school years to reduce the amount the district spends. Tuition fees will increase by 5% each year.

“This tuition increase will reduce the required supplement from the general fund,” Broome said. “The FY23 tax impact of the 5% tuition increase is a savings of $100,768.”

Other areas of savings include the district spending less on AP and IB testing, reallocating money to the capital projects budget, removing one-time budget changes that were made in the fiscal year 2022 and the reduction of almost all operational budgets by 5%.

“What we’ve done is we take every operational budget, we say ‘you’re cut 5%,’ and then they have to reallocate their funds, except for electricity,” Fehrman said. “We haven’t cut electricity funding because we see energy costs going up.”

The preliminary budget for the school nutrition budget is approximately $2.8 million. CSD currently participates in the United States Department of Agriculture program, where all students eat free. No decision has been made on whether the program will be extended into next year. If the program is extended, the school nutrition budget will be revised, Broome said.

“Total expenditures for the school nutrition program are in balance with total revenues,” Broome said. “The two largest expenses for the school nutrition program are staffing at $1.2 million and purchasing food at $1.26 million.”

The Special Revenues budget includes grant funds that the CSD receives from the federal and state governments. These funds generally have restrictions on how they can be used and are spent on a reimbursement basis.

“For FY23, we expect to receive the same grants we traditionally receive, which includes the State Lottery Pre-K Grant, Title I Grant, JROTC, and Perkins. We expect to receive and spend just under $2.7 million,” Broome said.

The capital fund budget includes funding the school system receives from the local option sales tax for a special purpose for education.

“ESPLOST is a penny sales tax that funds buildings, technology and other capital project needs outside of the general fund,” Broome said. “The one-cent sales tax is paid by everyone shopping or staying in DeKalb County, not just residents of the City of Decatur.”

ESPLOST V will expire on June 30 and ESPLOST VI, the last voter-approved sales tax in DeKalb County, will begin on July 1.

CSD will receive approximately $40.5 million in special purpose local option sales tax revenue over a five-year period. In the first year, the district will receive $8 million.

The school system expects to start the fiscal year with approximately $10.6 million in its capital fund budget and estimates capital fund expenditures at approximately $6.3 million. The largest capital expenditure will be the acquisition, construction and improvement of buildings, for which the district has budgeted approximately $3.3 million.

The Decatur School Board will meet for a business meeting March 22 at 6 p.m. at the Wilson School Support Center, 125 Electric Avenue.

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