The School Board on Thursday, June 21, 2018, approved the Annual Budget for 2018-19, which continues class-size reductions, increases safety and security spending and keeps the tax rate steady, and renewed the Superintendent of Schools’ contract through June 2021.
The budget recommended by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower grows the day-to-day operating budget to $406 Million from the current $385 Million based on rising student enrollment, the restoration of the final $4 Million in State “austerity budget cuts,” and the property tax digest’s recovery to pre-Recession levels. The millage property tax rate remains unchanged at 19.45 mills; the School Board held three public hearings prior to approval of the budget and millage rate.
“You should be very proud,” Chief Financial Officer Ken Owen told the School Board, as he reviewed the budget’s highlights on Thursday night. “You’re putting more money right where it should be – the classroom.”
The recovered funding is headed to classrooms, with 55 more teachers allowing for class sizes to shrink to pre-Recession levels, fulfilling a top School Board budget priority. Safety and security spending is significantly increasing, with the hiring of an additional three CCSD School Police Department POST-certified police officers, two more school counselors, installation of camera and electronic buzz-in systems at all high school front entrances, and investing $1 Million to speed up security foyer construction among the funded enhancements.
In order to maintain competitive compensation packages, the budget provides longevity step raises and a 1% cost-of-living salary increase to all eligible employees and hikes the starting teacher salary by $500 to $43,000. The budget funds the purchase of 30 replacement school buses, the hiring of additional bus drivers and monitors, school nurses and instructional lead strategist teacher coaches, while still stepping up reserves to $47 Million.
Along with the day-to-day General Fund budget, the School Board also approved a $41 Million building fund budget, which funds voter-approved Education SPLOST construction and technology projects.
“We continue to have to make a lot of difficult decisions when we talk through what we’d like to do,” Dr. Hightower said of the School District’s zero-based budget process, noting that rising healthcare and retirement benefits costs for employees take up a larger chunk of operating expenses each year. “We’ve tried to keep the budget as lean as possible, while still trying to go great things. There’s no better place to be than Cherokee, and we appreciate the consideration and support you the Board give us.”
The School Board on Thursday night also approved the renewal of Dr. Hightower’s contract to extend through June 30, 2021. Dr. Hightower, who began serving as Superintendent of Schools in February 2016, was appointed to the role after 30 years of service in CCSD beginning as a classroom teacher and advancing to Assistant Principal, Principal, Director, Assistant Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent.
“The Board is pleased to offer the extension of the Superintendent’s contract,” Board Chair Kyla Cromer said. “This recognizes the outstanding leadership and commitment to providing our students an excellent education.”
The School Board approved monthly personnel recommendations Thursday, which included the appointment of Tiffany Ridley as Coordinator for School Nutrition, Lissa Pijanowski as an Administrator on Special Assignment for the Division of Curriculum & Instruction, and Sherrie Smith as a CCSD Lead Nurse, among other additions and changes.
Dr. Hightower at the meeting announced an additional recognition that missed the agenda deadline – the School Board itself has earned an important honor for its governance and leadership!
The Georgia School Boards Association has awarded the School Board its 2018 Quality School Board designation. The statewide recognition program celebrates school boards that consistently model best practices and meet specific high standards of excellence.
“We know our School Board members are of the highest quality, as servant leaders who show exceptional professionalism and compassion in all they do and who always put children first when making policy decisions,” Dr. Hightower said. “They pay their ‘civic rent’ every day through this extraordinary service and do so without any expectation for recognition. We’re so proud of them for the important work they do and for earning this special honor for our community.”
The School Board also:
- Recognized Teasley MS teachers Dr. Jennifer Reynolds and Greg Koch as recipients of the Georgia Council for Exceptional Children’s Co-Teaching Team of the Year Award for 2017-18;
- Recognized 2017-18 Young Georgia Authors Competition winners;
- Recognized 2017-18 Elementary Science Olympiad winners;
- Recognized 2017-18 Social Studies Fair District, Regional and State winners;
- Recognized River Ridge HS rising senior Grace Pfohl as the Georgia Reading Association’s Reader of the Year for the Secondary Category (Grades 9-12);
- Recognized Georgia High School Association State and Regional Champions including the Creekview High School boys golf team;
- Approved the renewal of the existing Partnership Agreement with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta/Malon D. Mimms Club Cherokee County;
- Approved the first reading of annual School Board Policy updates including a formal cash management and investment policy as recommended by crediting agencies to move CCSD closer to a perfect triple-A credit rating, as well as a policy change requested by School Board Member Clark Menard to expand the Public Participation open forum opportunity to every School Board meeting;
- Approved monthly financial reports;
- Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips and professional development;
- Approved monthly capital outlay project update; and,
- Approved special lease agreements.
Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 19, 2018