GCS Board Approves Budget Request for 2015-16

The GCS Board of Education will ask the county for an additional $25.9 million in local funding for the 2015-16 school year.

Hammered by an increase in state mandates and fewer state dollars, as well as an $11.7 million local expense in charter schools, board members said the district cannot continue to cut its budget and provide the quality education the community’s children deserve.

“The current level of public education funding in our state and locally is inadequate to meet the very real needs of our children,” said Alan Duncan, board chairman. “Our teachers work incredibly hard, but they can’t work miracles. They need more support to get the job done.”

The majority of the board’s request, approximately $14.5 million, would go to restoring some of the cuts to schools that have occurred in recent years. If approved by county commissioners, the funding would restore 149 teaching positions in a variety of subject areas and replenish instructional resources, classroom supplies, tutoring, and other school needs.

Approximately $3.8 million of the requested increase would cover the expected growth in charter school enrollment and liability insurance cost increases, as well as state-mandated increases in employee retirement rates and health insurance costs.

Unfunded state mandates account for about $3.3 million of the requested increase. These include driver’s education ($1.3 million), a new American history course requirement for high school graduation ($796,560) and electronic drawings of all GCS buildings ($10,000). The board also anticipates spending about $1.2 million in local funding to make up for teacher assistant positions no longer funded by the state.

Meeting the local portion of the salary increase approved by the legislature for teachers and principals will cost GCS $2.2 million. Extending recruitment, retention and performance incentives for teachers and principals at high-need schools is expected to cost about $1.2 million.

A facility condition assessment of all GCS schools and buildings and continued participation in the state’s online resources for teachers and assessment are expected to cost $787,668.

If GCS doesn’t receive the additional funding, it will have to cut funding in other areas of its budget.

Since 2008, GCS has had to cut more than 200 teaching positions and increased class sizes three times. In the last five years, the district has asked for an additional $52 million in an attempt to, among other efforts, replace those positions, sustain operations and pay for salary increases, but only received a little over $4 million.

As a result, the district has struggled to offset increases in various areas, including student enrollment, health insurance, retirement, utilities, gas, insurance and the addition of hundreds of thousands of square feet of classroom and school space.

“We’re at the cliff,” said school board member Linda Welborn. “Public education is being undermined, and we can’t allow it to continue, or we will all pay the price, especially our students.”

In addition to the operating budget request, the board’s budget requests $10 million for the capital outlay fund to maintain the district’s 300 buildings and 12 million square feet of facilities.

GCS currently has only 31 cents per square foot for maintenance and routine repairs, up from 16 cents per square foot in 2014 but still woefully inadequate, according to school board members.

The request now goes to the county commissioners who will determine how much local funding the district will receive. The district is also waiting to learn how much funding it will receive from the state.

The board of county commissioners is required by law to adopt a Budget Ordinance by July 1, which is also when the GCS Board of Education needs to adopt its budget. If the county commissioners or the state have not adopted a final budget by July 1, the board will adopt an Interim Budget Resolution in order to prepare for the school year.