Whitfield County Schools opts against reduction of days for students or staff in fiscal year '21 budget

File photo

Eastbrook Middle School students Scarlett Guzman, left, and Diana Garcia work to make a tower from spaghetti hold a marshmallow during a teamwork exercise on their first day of school in August 2019. The Whitfield County Board of Education approved a fiscal year 2021 budget that accounts for a 10% reduction in state funding but manages to not lose any days for students or staff. 

The Whitfield County Board of Education has approved a fiscal year 2021 budget that accounts for a 10% reduction in funding from the state while managing not to lose any days for students or staff.

Students will have the usual 180 days, while staff members will work the typical 190 days, said Karey Williams, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. "No cuts to the calendar are proposed."

Whitfield County Schools officials began by estimating as many as 10 furlough days for employees, then halved that number, before ultimately not proposing any calendar reductions, said Superintendent Judy Gilreath. "We've been very conservative in our budgets the last few years, and we've already cut over $1 million in operations."

The fiscal year 2021 budget calls for a projected beginning general fund balance of $28.4 million and an ending balance of $22 million, with general fund revenues of $117.1 million and expenditures of $122.9 million. For the fiscal year that began July 1, Whitfield County Schools will receive 72% of its general fund revenue from the state, with the other 28% from local sources.

Total budgeted fiscal year 2020 revenue for the general fund was $126.4 million, while total general fund revenue for fiscal year 2021 is predicted to be $117.1 million, a decrease of more than $9 million, or 7.3%, said Kelly Coon, chief financial officer. The state is reducing funding to schools by 10% for fiscal year 2021 due to the economic crisis wrought by the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Total expenditures for fiscal year 2020 were $126.2 million, and Whitfield County Schools is reducing expenditures for fiscal year 2021 to $122.9 million, a decrease of more than 2.5%, Coon said. That was accomplished in various ways, including two rounds of department cuts, reductions through "attrition" where the system won't fill open positions, and a transfer of expenditures from the general fund by use of the $2.7 million that Whitfield County Schools is receiving in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

That money can be used for various purposes, she said. Whitfield County Schools will utilize it for custodial services, purchasing additional Chromebooks for students, and an online learning platform, the latter two of which will be especially important if students need to continue distance learning because of the pandemic as they did for the final two months of this past academic term.

Whitfield County Schools also picked up an additional $1.3 million in equalization funding from the state for fiscal year 2021, which was "a pleasant surprise," Coon said. The equalization formula considers average property wealth per student in school systems, as well as the number of students and property tax rates.

More than two-thirds of the 2021 general fund budget is devoted to instruction. General fund expenditures for fiscal year 2021 are dominated by total salary and benefits, at 88%.

The budget "has gone through numerous changes over the past three weeks, but we finally got some hard numbers ...," Coon said. Still, "we want to be conservative, as we always are in our budgeting."

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