Clark Menard

Clark Menard

The proposed budget for the Cherokee County School District in the 2019-20 year calls for a teacher raise as well as a cost of living raise for other school employees, lower class sizes and mental health counselors for students in crisis.

During its strategic work session Thursday, the school board heard an overview of the budget, which calls for increased investment in teachers, decreases in classroom size and new initiatives to improve services for at-risk students.

Although there are projected increases in revenue from local property taxes, the proposed millage rate is unchanged. The school board will hold three public hearings on both the rate and the budget: 11:30 a.m. June 12 and 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on June 20. There will be a final opportunity for public input during the 7 p.m. June 20 meeting when the budget is considered for approval. All of the hearings and the meeting will be held in the school board auditorium at the Dr. Frank R. Petruzielo Educational Services Facility, 1205 Bluffs Parkway in Canton.

The budget projects total state funding of $234.9 million, local revenue of $286.9 million and federal revenue of $27.4 million. Local property tax revenue is projected to increase 5.3% with rising property values.

The $481 million general fund and operating budget uses local funds to pay the balance that the state budget does not cover to ensure all teachers receive a true $3,000 raise, and that the raise is extended to all certified employees. There are also local funds for all classified employees to receive a 2% raise. The starting teacher pay for the school district is also increasing by $3,000, to $46,000.

If the new budget is approved, salaries are also increasing for some classified positions, such as police officers, that CCSD’s recent salary study determined should be more competitive. Also included in the proposed budget are longevity step increases for all eligible employees.

“I’m proud of this budget,” said School Board member Clark Menard after the presentation by CCSD Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Owen, who noted that 87% of spending is in salaries and benefits. Of all spending, 67% is in the classroom, 27% is in student support, such as counselors and nurses, and 6% is in other operating costs. “I’m proud that it underscores we’re in the people business. We need to keep the best and most talented … to provide the best education to our students that we can.”

The proposal also includes an increase in staff at CCSD, which is currently Cherokee County’s largest employer. The budget calls for 30 new teacher positions, including eight remedial education teachers, nine English Speakers of Other Languages teachers and 10 special education teachers.

A new initiative in the proposed budget is hiring two mental health counselors, who will work districtwide with students, specifically focusing on those in crisis. They will support the work in that regard already being done by school counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists.

“Whether they’re academically or emotionally at risk, we want healthy kids, and we’re doing whatever we can,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said.

The budget reduces average class sizes to a six-year low, ranging from 20 in kindergarten to 25-30 for middle and high school classes.

The school district will also take steps to reduce interest payments and improve its credit rating by shifting of a half a mill from operations to debt service.

For more information about the proposed CCSD budget, view the full budget or the “Financial Facts” summary at www.cherokeek12.net.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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