Rockdale school board gives nod to $129.9 million budget

CONYERS — The Rockdale Board of Education gave tentative approval to a $129.9 million budget for 2014-15 at a special called meeting Thursday night.

The approval paves the way for a public hearing on the spending plan set for 6:30 p.m., June 12, at the Central Office on Main Street. Final adoption of the budget is expected to take place on June 19.

Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis told board members that the budget restores the instructional calendar to 180 days from 170, eliminates seven furlough days for teachers, restores 10 instructional technology support positions in schools, and adds 42 teachers, which will reduce teacher/student ratios at every level.

The budget also includes local funding of $500,000 to $600,000 for student support services that had previously been paid for through a 2009 Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. The grant expires in June. The services were part of the school system’s Support Team for All Rockdale Students (STARS) program. The majority of those funds — $300,000 — is earmarked for mental health services for students.

Davis said the school system expects to receive about $7.8 million more in state funds for the new fiscal year, along with about $2.9 million more in property tax revenue due to growth in the tax digest. The school system will need to dip into its reserve funds for $500,000 in order to balance the budget.

Restoring teacher furlough days will translate into an increase in gross pay ranging from 3.5 percent to 3.8 percent, Davis said. Teachers will not receive step increases, nor will the school system restore its contribution to the alternative retirement plan.

Rockdale County Public Schools opted out of Social Security in 1983, choosing instead to participate in a 403(b) plan. The school system had contributed 4 percent to the plan for each employee, with the employee contributing 2 percent of income but has been unable to make that contribution for the past four years.

Administrators agreed that restoring that contribution is a goal for the future.

“It’s certainly something that we want to put back in as much as the budget will let us and as much as the board will allow,” said Superintendent Rich Autry.

Davis said restoring the school system’s contribution would cost about $3.6 million a year, depending on the number of employees and how much they earn.