The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday night approved the budget for next school year, which calls for a tax rate reduction, increased investment in school safety and pay raises for teachers and support staff.
The 1.5 mills decrease in the tax rate, which was unanimously approved, is the first reduction proposed since 2014 and was prompted by the rise in property values. While most homeowners will see an increase in their tax bill due to their property value rising, the increase will be less due to the School Board’s action.
“We took into account rising property values and the burden on homeowners, as well as the need to keep our pay rates competitive to retain our best teachers and support staff,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said. “We took into account inflation’s impact on our operating costs, as well as the potential for high levels of property value appeals and a market correction or recession. This budget answers all of those calls, but is balanced and conservative -- we didn’t reduce the millage rate as much as some may have wanted, but we also didn’t raise salaries as much as others may have wanted.”
The overall budget, which is online here, totals $706 Million and includes the $471 Million day-to-day operating budget, as well as new school construction, bond debt retirement, School Nutrition and grants. The Financial Facts report, which shares budget highlights, is online here.
The operating budget funds increases to teacher and staff pay, including “step” longevity raises for all eligible teachers and support staff, the Governor’s $2,000 raise for teachers, 2% cost of living raises for support staff, and improvements to the teacher salary scale, which is online here, to make it more competitive with other school districts. The budget funds increased teacher allotments to further lower class size, and makes last year’s pandemic relief pay increases for substitutes and temporary workers permanent. Other budget improvements include speeding up the retirement of bond debt from past school construction, as well as borrowing less by funding more capital costs through the operating budget.
After the school shooting in Uvalde, Dr. Hightower asked the school district’s Police Chief Buster Cushing to begin a review of operations to identify possible areas for improvement. While the review work is ongoing, Chief Cushing made an initial proposal, which the Superintendent has approved, to expand the presence of police at elementary schools.
Elementary schools currently are served by school district police officers who are stationed at nearby high schools and middle schools, with those officers regularly visiting the elementary schools. Through the new proposal, which did not increase the overall budget as it calls for repurposing federal pandemic relief funds, the district will designate police officers to serve only elementary schools.
Beginning Aug. 1, five current district police officers (three from central command and two who currently are additional officers on larger high school campuses) will be assigned to patrol the district’s 23 elementary schools, with each responsible for a cluster of elementary schools that are close to each other. Four new police officers will be hired, with advertising to begin this month; once those officers are hired, the two officers reassigned from high schools will return to their campuses, bringing the total number of officers assigned to elementary schools to seven. During the second half of next school year, additional police officers will be hired and, with the return of the three officers to central command, bring the total number of officers assigned to elementary schools to eight to 10.
The phase-in plan will allow time and funding for recruiting high quality officers, ordering equipped patrol cars and other equipment needed by officers and providing any additional training required. Dr. Hightower said, while the initial goal is to get to eight to 10 officers by the end of the school year, additional officers may be added the following year to further lower the officer to school ratio.
“We’ve done so many other things,” to improve safety and security in schools, Dr. Hightower said, “but we lack the consistent and persistent presence of police officers in our elementary schools.”
School Board members expressed their support for the plan, with School Board member Mike Chapman recommending that they lobby state legislators to fund school safety, which currently receives no annual funding from the state.
“They need to start ponying up if they’re really concerned about safety and security in our schools,” Mr. Chapman said.
School safety has and must continue to be a priority, School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said, adding that this is the issue, above all others, “that keeps us up at night.”
As part of its approval of the monthly personnel recommendations, the School Board approved several leadership appointments for next school year.
Jessica Bunce will serve as an assistant principal at Woodstock ES. A 20-year educator, she currently works as a Special Education lead teacher for Cartersville City Schools.
John Hughes will serve as an assistant principal at Woodstock HS. An 18-year educator, he currently works as a Spanish teacher at E.T. Booth MS and is a past Teacher of the Year winner.
Clatrina Lane will serve as an assistant principal at Clark Creek ES STEM Academy. A 23-year educator, she currently works as a school improvement coach for Fulton County Schools.
Meredith Rocker will serve as an assistant principal at Clark Creek ES STEM Academy. A seven-year educator, she currently works as Clark Creek’s academic facilitator.
Justin West will serve as an assistant principal at Sequoyah High School. A 13-year educator, he currently works as a history teacher at Sequoyah and has coached its football, basketball and golf teams.
The School Board also:
Held a moment of silence for the Uvalde school shooting victims and their families;
- Recognized CCSD’s 2022 Young Georgia Authors Competition state and regional winners. Read more here;
- Recognized CCSD middle school students selected for All-State Chorus. Read more here;
- Recognized CCSD’s 2022 Elementary School Academic Bowl Team champion: Macedonia ES. Read more here;
- Recognized CCSD's 2022 Georgia PTA Reflections state and national winners. Read more here;
- Recognized CCSD's Georgia High School Association state and regional champions. Read more here;
- Recognized Etowah HS Class of 2022 graduate Ella Daugherty as recipient of the 2022 East West Bank Scholarship. Read more here;
- Recognized CCSD’s 2022 ABM Industry Group LLC scholarship recipients. Read more here;
- Approved the first reading of annual updates to School Board Policies;
- Approved monthly financial reports;
- Approved the annual Career, Technical and Agricultural Education plan and state funding application;
- Approved out of state travel by staff;
- Approved out of state and overnight field trips;
- Approved upholding the media advisory committee’s recommendation for the challenged book, “Crank” (2004), which allows it to remain in high school media center and classroom libraries for optional check out by students;
- Approved a request for a permanent easement for emergency access;
- Approved special lease agreements; and,
- Approved changes to the Superintendent's organizational chart for next school year.
Six CCSD Class of 2022 graduates earned scholarships from ABM Industry Groups LLC, CCSD's custodial services provider. Woodstock High School's honoree, Camden Hinkelmann, is congratulated at the meeting by ABM leaders.
More photos from the meeting are online here.