CONYERS — “What a difference a year makes,” said Rockdale Public Schools Superintendent Richard Autry in presenting a proposed 2014-15 budget to school board members Thursday.
The proposed $129 million spending plan contained mostly good news for the school system — restoring the instructional calendar to 180 days from 170, eliminating seven furlough days for teachers, restoring instructional technology support personnel in schools and reducing class sizes at every level.
Increased funding from the state and an anticipated increase in the tax digest are expected to restore the cuts made last year, as well as make it possible to reduce the millage by .5 mills.
The budget also proposes $300,000 in mental health support services for students that are currently funded through a 2009 Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. Those grant funds are expected to be fully expended next month.
“No budget is easy, but this one was a whole lot easier to work on than last year,” said Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis, referring to the current year spending plan that included 44 fewer regular education teachers and a reduction in force that affected more than 50 other employees.
The 2013-14 budget also required $3 million from the system’s reserve fund in order to be balanced. The new budget paints a rosier picture, Davis said, drawing only $500,000 from reserves.
The new budget also proposes adding 42 teaching positions, which will slightly reduce student/teacher ratios at all grade levels.
While school system employees will not see a step increase in next year’s paychecks, Davis said administrators felt it was more vital to restore the furlough — or calendar reduction — days. School system employees have not received step increases four out of the last five years.
“We thought that, obviously, the restoration of the calendar reduction days was a lot more important,” said Davis. “That number basically equates to a 3.5 to 3.9 percent increase for all of our employees on their salary. They will be working more days, but they will get more money. We felt like that was a lot more critical, that and the 180 instructional days.”
Davis said the school system expects to receive about $7.8 million more in state funding for the new fiscal year, along with about $2.9 million more in property tax revenue due to growth in the tax digest.
Davis projected that the current millage rate of 26 will be reduced to 25.5. The millage was increased by 1.5 mills last year.
The school board will hold a called meeting Thursday, May 22, at 6 p.m. for tentative adoption of the budget. The meeting will be held in the Board Room at 954 N. Main St.