DALTON, Ga. — With an increase in teacher salaries and raises for non-certified personnel, Whitfield County Schools may have to dip into its general fund reserve balance for the next fiscal year, but it would be just a little dip.

Members of the school board approved the fiscal year 2020 budget by a vote of 4-0 on Monday. The budget has more than $184 million in total expenditures including some $33 million for capital projects including construction of two new middle schools. The fiscal year starts on July 1.

The majority of the general fund budget — 87 percent — is for salaries for teachers and classified workers (cafeteria, administrative, etc.). School board members approved a 2% pay raise for all classified positions, and the county system will also have to absorb some of the cost of a $3,000 raise for teachers proposed by Gov. Brian Kemp and passed by the state legislature.

“We do have positions which are not covered under the (state) allotment sheet,” said Chief Financial Officer Kelly Coon. “So any positions above and beyond what is funded on the allotment sheet, we would absorb totally. The 2% raise for classified positions are also funded locally.”

The budget dips into the general fund reserve balance for $630,837, leaving the system with $25.8 million in reserve there, although Superintendent Judy Gilreath said that may not be necessary.

According to Coon, forming the budget is a balancing act with lots of unknowns with revenue. Her office attempts to err on the side of caution.

“Dipping into fund reserves a little, it certainly was a hit to our budget,” Coon said. “But a lot is hinging on local revenue, based on a tax digest we haven’t seen yet. Everything we do is really conservative, so all of our numbers are conservative right now.”

Gilreath said she doesn’t want the county school system to be overextended.

“One of our biggest challenges is how much we are going to get locally,” Gilreath said. “Sometimes, it is just our best estimate. We try to run it really like we run our household budgets. I just don’t go in debt for something if I don’t know when or if I can pay it back.”

Total projected general fund revenue is expected to be approximately $126.4 million. The roughly $58 million in other expenditures will come from other funding sources such as state and federal grants, as well as funding for the capital projects from education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (ESPLOSTs).

“We build budgets from the ground up in every department,” Gilreath said. “We’ve found we have been able to have better flexibility of spending money where we need it the most.”

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