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Clarke schools budget adds new parapro positions, but would require a dip into the district's surplus funds

Clarke County School Superintendent Robbie Hooker with district and school administrators at a work session in May, 2024.
Clarke County School Superintendent Robbie Hooker with district and school administrators at a work session in May, 2024.

The proposed budget for the Clarke County School District will add more staff to elementary school classrooms and provide major raises for some staff. But, getting those items will require the district to dip into its cash surplus.

Budget calls for new paraprofessionals

The spending proposal would add 28 new paraprofessionals to the county’s elementary schools, two parapros in each elementary school. Paraprofessionals are an important part of the classroom environment, assisting teachers with classroom management and working with students one-on-one and in small groups. Paraprofessionals often work with special needs students.

But Clarke County School Superintendent Robbie Hooker warned members of the Board of Education that just because the district might create 28 new parapro positions, that does not mean that those jobs will be easily filled. At a budget hearing on Tuesday, Hooker said that some county schools were having problems finding parapros for existing positions.

"That's going to be difficult for some of our schools- to attract paraprofessionals," Hooker told Board of Education members. "We have some schools who were not able to fill those positions this year. So we're then we're looking at inequities."

District staff will likely see raises, but how much?

Those paraprofessionals are also part of a group of employees who could see a substantial pay increase in the proposed budget. Classified employees, like parapros, bus drivers, and custodians could see a $1,750 bump in their yearly pay.

Some board members, however, sought a larger increase. A figure of $2,250 per year was suggested at a hearing on Monday. At Tuesday’s hearing, the district’s Chief Financial Officer came back with an estimated cost to give those classified employees a $2,500 raise instead of the $1,750 proposal. That would carry a price tag of about $900,000.

Some board members seemed supportive of the larger figure, while others suggested a $1,750 raise and a one-time $750 bonus.

Some board members raise concerns about hike in afterschool program fees

School board members expressed concern about rising fees for afterschool programs.

"I do hope that you all will consider that going from $6 per child to $10 per child is a pretty steep incline for after school care," said Board of Education President Mumbi Anderson. "I want to keep reiterating that. I am not pleased with parents having to almost double the cost of care each week."

I am not pleased with parents having to almost double the cost of [afterschool] care each week.
Mumbi Anderson, Board of Education President

Superintendent Hooker, however, noted that the fees for afterschool programs have not been raised in fifteen years.

Board members seemed open to the possibility of exploring a gradual increase in fees, rather than doing the full increase at once.

Proposal would pull money from the district's surplus

Overall, the proposed budget for county schools will come to some $240 million, up $26.5 million, or around 12%, from last year’s budget. Most of the district’s funding comes from two sources, state money and local property tax revenue. While the property tax rate remains steady at 18.8 mills, many Clarke County property owners can expect their taxes to rise, thanks to rising property values.

Some of the increase can be explained by new positions and salary increases for employees. In addition to the proposed raise for classified employees, certified employees like teachers and administrators will also see a pay bump of $2,500.

Other things contributing to the budget increase some from the state. For example, health insurance costs for employees are rising. The draft budget adds some $5.2 million to cover those costs.

In order to meet the spending goals laid out in the proposed budget, the district will have to dip into its reserves, currently around $55 million. The proposed budget would pull $6.8 million from the surplus, although the district should still have almost $50 million in its fund balance.

The district will hold a third and final budget hearing on June 12, ahead of an expected budget vote on June 13.


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.