Whitfield County Schools officials look to fiscal year 2022 budget

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Southeast Whitfield High School students listen to instructions on the first day of the 2020-21 academic year. The high school will see roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) replacements beginning this summer, and that $9.5 million project is included in the school system's tentative budget for fiscal year 2022, which was unveiled Monday. 

Whitfield County Schools estimates general fund revenues of approximately $125.9 million and expenditures of roughly $127.1 million for fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1.

Kelly Coon, chief financial officer for Whitfield County Schools, presented a tentative budget for fiscal year 2022 Monday during a Whitfield County Board of Education meeting as part of the first of two public hearings on the budget. The second public hearing is set for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Whitfield County Schools' central office, 1306 S. Thornton Ave.

Total general fund revenues for fiscal year 2021, which concludes June 30, are estimated to be $117 million, while total general fund expenditures for fiscal year 2021 are expected to be $122.9 million, Coon said. The general fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2022 is estimated to be roughly $31.4 million.

The tentative budget for fiscal year 2022 includes 9.5 new certified instruction positions, a pair of special education paraprofessionals and a technology security administrator, among other additions, she said. Roughly two-thirds of the general fund budget is devoted to instruction, while 87% of expenditures are for total salary and benefits, with the remaining 13% of expenditures tabbed for operations.

The tentative budget for fiscal year 2022 includes approximately $15 million for capitol projects, including roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) replacements at Southeast Whitfield High School for roughly $9.5 million.

That project has already been delayed due to material shortages, but "I'm confident we'll still be able to finish it by the end of next summer," said Mike Ewton, assistant superintendent for operations and student services. The project has been set for a summer 2022 completion, and "I'm very excited about doing this."

The school system is benefiting from more than $14 million from the first and second federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Acts, as well as $26 million from the federal American Rescue Plan of 2021, Coon said. The school system should exhaust the $2.7 million it received from the initial CARES Act by June 30, while the $11.5 million from the second CARES Act is slated to be spent by Aug. 15, 2022.

The school system has used, and will continue to use, CARES funds for a variety of purposes, from custodial services to network upgrades to instructional iPads to ViewSonic digital whiteboards to teacher computers to school buses. The school board members voted 4-0 Monday to spend roughly $1.4 million for 14 buses from Atlanta's Peach State Freightline and will use CARES Act II funds to pay for them.

Replacing buses is pivotal, as the school system's fleet of more than 170 buses currently averages an age of 14.5 years, according to Ewton. The average mileage of those buses is 165,000 miles, and the average cost to add a bus to the fleet is $100,000.

"We're still working on the budget" for the $26 million from the American Rescue Plan, Coon said. All of the federal funds must be spent by fiscal year 2024.

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