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Clarke schools could dip into surplus to fund their budget

Clarke County schools will have to dip into the district’s cash reserves to fund operations under a budget proposal drafted by district staff.

The budget is far from finalized, but members of the Board of Education saw estimates of both the district’s expected revenue and its suggested spending.

Preliminary estimates suggest that property tax revenues, a major source of funding for the district, will grow by about 8% from last year. That’s good news for the district, but that growth is not predicted to be nearly as big as last year’s, when property values soared in a red-hot housing market.

In addition to property tax revenue, the district also receives a healthy amount of funding from the state. That amount is estimated to be around $86 million.

Those two big funding sources, plus another $13 million in other revenue mean that the school district can expect to bring in about $232 million, about $18 million more than last year.

In the draft budget, district staff recommended leaving the millage rate at its current level.

However, even though the amount of money coming in is expected to grow, so is spending.

District officials recommend several new spending measures, including a $1,250 raise for all district employees. That raise, estimated at $4.4 million, would come on top of a state-funded $2,500 raise for certified personnel.

District staff are also asking for eleven new positions at the district’s Learning Center, including five new teachers. The Learning Center’s student population fluctuates through the year but has grown to over 100 students at times. The draft budget also includes funding for 4 new unarmed security officers at Clarke Middle, Clarke Central, and Cedar Shoals.

All told, the proposed budget amounts to about $236 million in spending. That’s about a ten percent increase from last year.

To cover the difference between the projected income and the proposed spending, the district would have to dip into its cash reserves for some $4.1 million to fill the gap. That’s a feasible strategy, said Chris Griner, the district's Chief Financial Officer, and the district’s surplus can currently support it, but he warned against taking too much out of the reserves.

There were also several items not included in the draft budget, but which have been suggested in recent months by school board members. One of those is a $1.2 million proposal to add two paraprofessionals to each of the county’s elementary schools. Adding proposals like that to the final budget would mean a deeper dive into the district’s surplus funds.

Board members will meet and vote on a tentative budget on May 9, and a final budget vote is expected in mid-June.



Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.