From left to right, Dr. Krista Webb, Kerri Schmitt, and Wendy McDaniel.
The Cherokee County School Board at its regular meeting tonight unanimously approved the Cherokee County School District’s annual budget, which, despite a $25 Million State education funding cut, was balanced without the need for furlough days or a millage rate increase.
The School Board held three public hearings on the $410 Million operating budget and millage rate, which is unchanged at 19.45 mills; no citizens spoke.
To offset the State’s 10% funding cut, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower directed his senior staff to freeze central office hiring, postpone projects and slash as much spending as possible to keep the impact away from the classroom. In addition to avoiding furloughs, layoffs or a tax rate increase, the budget also avoided the need to drain CCSD’s reserves.
School Board member Patsy Jordan thanked Dr. Hightower and Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Owen for listening to the Board’s budget priorities, which were topped with maintaining a 180-day school year for students and no furlough days for teachers and staff.
“I really appreciate everybody that worked together” to accomplish those priorities, said Ms. Jordan, a retired longtime CCSD teacher. She added that, the year she retired, CCSD teachers and staff had lost pay for four furlough days, and, when she joined the School Board soon after, the number had risen to eight furlough days due to the Great Recession. “It hurts,” she said of the financial impact on employees.
In addition to protecting CCSD students from a loss of education through furlough days, these cost-cutting efforts also mean employees won’t suffer the pay reductions associated with furloughs; additionally, the approved budget includes a longevity salary “step” increase for eligible staff -- at a cost of $4.1 Million. The School Board also addressed misinformation about Dr. Hightower’s salary circulating in the community. He is receiving the same “step” increase as all employees, which, on average, is 3%. With this “step” increase of $7,231, he will be paid $248,251 to lead CCSD’s 5,000 employees in service to 42,500 students, which is less that the superintendents of similarly sized metro Atlanta school systems; his contractual benefits, such as a car allowance, retirement, healthcare, and work travel expenses, are budgeted at $47,650.
The approved budget also includes more than $4 Million in funding to improve health and safety measures in preparation for the reopening of schools on Aug. 3, including $2.7 Million for additional custodial services and supplies, $1 Million to purchase masks, face shields, gloves and other protective equipment, and additional monies for installing transparent plastic barriers and other measures. While the issue of school reopening was not on the agenda and School Board Members took no action, Dr. Hightower did share an update on the work underway by central office staff to prepare for the reopening of school: ranging from implementing safety measures to ordering supplies to preparing Digital Learning frameworks to answering parents’ questions and regularly updating the Reopening of School FAQs webpage at https://bit.ly/CCSDfaqs20 One parent spoke during Public Participation, an open forum time held at every regular meeting; she thanked the School Board for its school reopening plan and shared that her children are ready to return to school on Aug. 3.
School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said she appreciates the feedback she has heard from the community, noting the majority have been “very respectful and very kind.”
The School Board also approved, as part of the monthly personnel recommendation agenda item, the promotion of three leaders.
Dr. Krista Webb, a 27-year educator, CCSD Teacher of the Year and past assistant principal, who for the past year has overseen Career, Technical and Agricultural Education in the Office of Curriculum & Instruction, has been promoted to a coordinator position in the division. Kerri Schmitt, a 16-year educator, who has served for 15 years at Creekview HS as an award-winning teacher and regionally honored soccer coach, will join Knox ES STEM Academy as an assistant principal. Wendy McDaniel, an 18-year CCSD educator, who has served as a teacher and a Special Education facilitator and is the current CCSD Special Education Facilitator of the Year, is advancing to the assistant principal post at Woodstock ES.
The School Board also:
- Announced that the Office of Communications earned four national awards for outstanding communications initiatives. The National School Public Relations Association honors include the Golden Achievement Award for CCSD’s anti-vaping awareness campaign; CCSD is one of only 32 school districts nationwide to be recognized with this top honor. CCSD also earned three of the eight awards presented to Georgia school systems for excellent publications: an Award of Merit for the CCSD Connections parent newsletter, and two awards for CCSD’s new annual magazine Class Act, which is printed by the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News;
- Heard a staff legislative update on education-related bills approved by the General Assembly during this year’s session;
- Approved a Strategic Waiver School System contract amendment resolution;
- Approved the final reading of modifications and updates to School Board Policies;
- Approved authorized school fund-raising activities for the 2020-21 school year;
- Approved the monthly capital outlay projects report;
- Approved annual tribunal hearing panel appointments for certificated personnel recommended for employment contract termination or suspension; and,
- Approved the annual Local School Board Governance Training plan.
The School Board’s next meeting is Aug. 20.