After Running A Surplus During the Recession, Fulton Schools Face Budget Shortfall

For the upcoming year, though, Fulton County school district officials estimate a budget gap between $44 and $56 million.
For the upcoming year, though, Fulton County school district officials estimate a budget gap between $44 and $56 million.
Credit Martha Dalton / WABE

During the Recession, several metro Atlanta school districts faced big budget deficits, due largely to a drop in local property tax revenue. Shrinking taxes also affected the Fulton County School System. However, administrators immediately trimmed the budget in response. The district operated at a surplus for years. Last year, the Fulton County school board approved a budget of just over $1 billion for FY 2019.

For the upcoming year, though, district officials estimate a budget gap between $44 and $56 million.

“We have short and potentially long-term challenges,” Marvin Dereef, Deputy Chief Financial Officer for the school district, told the school board. “For instance, local revenue challenge[s] include the three percent cap on taxable assessment growth for residential property, approved by voters this past November.”

Dereef said enrollment has also dropped slightly, resulting in less state money. He said the cost of benefits also increased. Dareef said Fulton County wants to keep teachers’ salaries competitive, which strains the budget. District officials are also waiting for the courts to decide whether Fulton Industrial will be annexed by the city of Atlanta. That would impact the school system’s tax revenue as well.

To shore up the gap, officials recommended making cuts to central office staff, restructuring alternative schools, cutting per-pupil spending by 15 percent, increasing the student/teacher ratio in middle and high school remedial classes from 20:1 to 23:1.

“Asking for an increase to any class size is not easy,” the district’s Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones told the school board. “However, after reviewing class size across the district, to have a class size in middle school and high school lower than what we recommend for Kindergarten, or for first, second, or third grade did not seem appropriate.”

Jones estimated increasing the class size ratio would save the district about $4 million. He said Fulton could save another million dollars by cutting back on its English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Jones recommended the district consider reducing reserve funds and allowing schools to carry over a portion of their budgets from one year to the next.

The board will seek community input on the FY 2020 budget in March. Board members will take a final vote in June.

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