Members of the Dalton Board of Education voted Monday for a tentative fiscal year 2023 general fund budget of $89.9 million, as well as a tentative property tax rate for the fiscal year of 8.095 mills.
The fiscal year begins July 1. Both votes were 5-0.
School board members approved an operating property tax rate last year of 8.095 mills, which was the first reduction in 13 years; the rate had been 8.2 mills for the prior seven years.
For fiscal year 2023, however, “we’re keeping it the same,” said Matt Evans, chairman of the school board.
Chief Financial Officer Theresa Perry’s latest fiscal year 2023 budget draft projects a general fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2022 of $23.8 million and a general fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2023 of $19.6 million, meaning expenses are predicted to exceed revenues in the general fund by roughly $4.2 million during fiscal year 2023.
The school board seeks “to stay north of $16.5 million” with the general fund, according to Evans: “That’s generally where we want to be.”
Dalton Public Schools will receive $1.1 million less in equalization funding from the state for fiscal year 2023 than it did for fiscal year 2022, said Perry. However, the $4.5 million in equalization funding from the state for fiscal year 2023 will still be “the second-highest equalization amount in our history.”
Equalization funding ranks school systems by property wealth per number of students, then allots funds to school systems that have less property wealth per student than the state average, according to Perry.
“Equalization is wealth per child, and wealth is measured in property value.”
Gov. Brian Kemp and the state legislature approved one-time supplements of $2,000 for public school employees, whether they be full or part time, and Dalton Public Schools is also increasing the salary scales for fiscal year 2023, said Perry. The percentage increases will be highest for employees lowest on the scale, but even those at the highest points on the scale will receive raises of at least 2.4%.
School Nutrition employees will also receive raises, with starting wages increasing from $9.70 an hour to $11 an hour, Perry said. “It’s not clear if that is going to be enough” to attract and retain the necessary quality and quantity of employees, however.
“My gut says we’ll need to go to $12” an hour in fiscal year 2024, she said. “We’ve all heard the stories of (fast-food establishments) paying $17 per hour, (and) we are competing for that group of employees.”
“Our jobs are better, (with) no nights (nor) weekends, and better managers,” plus the possibility of benefits, so Dalton Public Schools likely doesn’t need to match private sector wages, Perry said. “However, we do need to make improvements” on the salary scale to be competitive.
The tentative fiscal year 2023 budget includes four school resource officers from the Dalton Police Department, “which is what we currently have this semester,” Perry said. That is down from five school resource officers in recent years.
“We feel good about where we are right now with four,” said Superintendent Tim Scott.
The general fund is expected to absorb four additional elementary schoolteachers in fiscal year 2023, as well as five Exceptional Student Services teachers and three Exceptional Student Services paraprofessionals, Perry said.
Dalton Public Schools is adding two psychologists to make three total as youth across the country continue to battle mental health challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but both of those positions will be paid for with funds from the federal American Rescue Plan of 2021, as will several first-grade teachers, interventionists, paraprofessionals and Exceptional Student Services paraprofessionals.
The system will also begin converting the antiquated projectors at elementary schools to interactive touchscreen flat panels with funds from the American Rescue Plan and the second federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, she said.
“We’re going to spend all the money” from the first and second CARES Acts, as well as the American Rescue Plan, and leave “zero dollars on the table.”
Dalton Public Schools received approximately $2 million from the initial CARES Act, $7 million from the second CARES Act and $17 million from the American Rescue Plan. All funds must be exhausted by fiscal year 2024.
Dalton Public Schools will hold a second public hearing on the fiscal year 2023 budget in June. School board members typically wait until August to approve a final property tax rate.