Cherokee County Board of Education members asked school district leaders to avoid unpaid furlough days for teachers and hold the line on tax rates despite expected deep cuts to state funding in writing a new budget for 2020-21.

Superintendent Brian Hightower and others on Thursday night presented school board members with a budget that meets those goals, and now the public will have an opportunity to weigh in at a series of three public hearings. 

“I can’t say how much I appreciate [you] cutting things that are furthest from our students,” board member Patsy Jordan said following the budget presentation.

The proposed budget is posted online at Public hearings have been scheduled for 11:30 a.m. July 8 and two hearings 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on July 16. The school board is expected to vote on the budget and set property tax rates at its July 16 meeting.

The $410 million operating budget is based on the current millage rate of 19.45 mills, with $25 million in planned spending cuts in response to an expected 11% drop in state education funding caused by the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. The CCSD operating budget is funded by local property taxes, state education funding and federal funds are allotted for specific costs, such as a portion of special education services.

Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue pays for a separate budget of specific voter-approved construction projects, technology infrastructure, land purchases, and related debt reduction and cannot be used for operations, such as salaries. This year’s proposed Ed SPLOST budget is $30 million and includes completion of the Mill Creek Middle School classroom addition and Creekview High School agricultural classroom building, and beginning construction of additional classrooms at Woodstock Middle School, a second gymnasium at Woodstock High School, and athletic facility improvements at Etowah High School, as well as other projects.

The proposed operating budget does include money to increase safety measures related to the pandemic, which forced the final 10 weeks of last school year to be completed remotely. These expenses include increasing money to clean and disinfect schools, installing clear plastic partitions in front offices and cafeterias, and purchasing hand sanitizer for all classrooms.

Re-opening the schools

Hightower told school board members that the system has two advisory committees working on plans to re-open schools.

Both groups will provide feedback to Hightower as he determines an official reopening plan, which is expected to be announced in July.

Hightower announced during the meeting that year-round staff, who have worked remotely throughout the school and office closures, will return to their worksites beginning Monday. All CCSD employees were notified this week of the plan, which is the first phase in returning all CCSD staff to their worksites.

Hightower also announced he will send a questionnaire to CCSD parents next week asking whether they would prefer to send their children back to school in person on Aug. 3, or instead participate in online learning from home. The questionnaires will be connected to students by their student ID, and the data will be used to ensure resources are available for both options being considered.

“We’re not asking parents to vote on a plan, as I will be making my decision based on what’s in the best interest of our students, the state of public health in our community, and any mandates issued by the state or federal government,” he said. “Parents’ input through this questionnaire is critically important to ensure we have the staff and resources in place to meet students’ needs.”

In other business, the board:

• Approved the renewal of the partnership agreement with Cherokee Child Advocacy Council, Inc.;

• Approved the first reading of modifications and updates to School Board Policies;

• Approved the monthly financial report;

• Approved the submission to the State of CCSD’s annual plan for improvement of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) programs and one-year funding application;

• Approved the monthly capital outlay projects report;

• Approved special lease agreements; and,

• Approved monthly personnel recommendations.

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