Murray County Schools officials consider fiscal year 2022 budget

File/Daily Citizen-News

Don Milen teaches sixth-graders at Woodlawn Elementary School in September 2020. The Murray County Board of Education could approve a fiscal year 2022 budget as soon as June 7, and the latest proposed budget estimates a deficit of roughly $1.5 million, which would leave the school system with a general fund balance of more than $13 million at the end of fiscal year 2022. 

CHATSWORTH — Murray County Schools' latest fiscal year 2022 budget proposal estimates a deficit of roughly $1.5 million.

"A year ago, we were looking at (potentially) a $7 or $8 million deficit," said Superintendent Steve Loughridge. "It's like night and day, the difference of where we thought we'd be (versus where we are)."

The fiscal year starts July 1.

The tentative fiscal year 2022 budget assumes roughly $58.5 million in revenues against approximately $60 million in expenditures, and "we still project (at least) a $13 million general fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2022," said Kathy Smith, the school system's director of finance. The Murray County Board of Education is likely to approve a fiscal year 2022 budget at its next meeting June 7.

Federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funds have helped improve the school system's financial outlook and allowed Murray County Schools to consider and execute projects they likely wouldn't have been able to otherwise, Smith said. The school system has spent or allotted its $1.6 million from the initial CARES Act, but still has approximately $2.7 million remaining from the $6 million it received from the second CARES Act, plus all $13 million from the American Rescue Plan of 2021, all of which can be carried until fiscal year 2023.

Murray County Schools is using funds from the second CARES Act to replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controllers at several schools at a cost of $511,000.

The contract is with Ellijay's Control Systems Integration, and work will be done this summer, but some of the project may extend into the 2021-22 school year due to limited availability of parts, said Murray County Schools' Chris Crow, maintenance supervisor. Among other benefits, new controllers "will allow us to air condition the gyms."

The current controls for those buildings "are so old, we can't even control the (temperature in the) buildings," Loughridge said.

Other spending

Murray County Schools is allotting $18,144 to expand the Spring Place Elementary School parking lot.

"We had talked about adding an additional lot," and the school raised funds for grading, so the system's only cost is $18,144, said Mike Pritchett, director of facilities and transportation. "We're going to put the base down there for them, and, maybe in a year or two, pave it."

The project will not only expand parking space, but provide "access for students to get back to a play area" with basketball hoops, Pritchett said. Without the base, that area would be mostly red clay, and students would "track mud into the building."

Strategic planning and new policy

Murray County Schools' current five-year strategic plan expires June 30, 2022, so school system officials will soon start developing a new strategic plan, which will include plenty of input from the community, Loughridge said: "We'll be doing all that this time next year."

During a school board work session, a new board policy regarding teacher evaluation appeals had its first reading.

The new policy would allow teachers who have been with Murray County Schools four years or more to appeal "unsatisfactory" year-end evaluations to the principal of their school, said Mike Tuck, the school system's director of human resources. If the teacher remains dissatisfied with that appeal's outcome, he or she can appeal to the superintendent or superintendent's designee, and the decision of the superintendent or superintendent's designee would be final.

The school board members could approve the policy at their June meeting, Tuck said. If they do so, it would take effect July 1.

A new policy is a requirement due to a new state law.

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