Superintendent Jeff Rose presented his proposed $1 billion budget for the 2018 school year to Fulton’s school board Thursday. The proposal is an increase of more than 5 percent from last year’s budget.
This is the first year the district’s general operating budget will exceed $1 billion, but Rose told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the figure is on pace with rising costs, including costs related to health care and increased enrollment.
The plan keeps the local property tax rate the same. Fulton’s millage rate is the lowest in metro Atlanta.
“We aren’t going to see huge sway,” he said. “We have lists of needs that we decided this year is not the year because of the rising costs.”
The board gave Rose four priorities for the budget: base each school’s funding on its academic needs, allocate resources conservatively, improve salary competitiveness and make a budget plan that aligns personnel and programs to the district’s goals.
Rose’s recommended budget would increase health insurance for certain employees, raise pay for all employees (2 percent for teachers, 1 percent for staff), maintain a $3.7 million reserve for instructional expenses.
Fulton’s budgeters anticipate tax revenue will increase 6 percent and revenue from the state will increase by 2.3 percent.
This is Rose’s first budgeting process with Fulton County Schools since taking the position in June 2016. Consequently, this year is a goal-setting and identity-finding year, Rose said.
“As you straddle a plan, you need to determine what you’re going to focus on, and then there is a weeding process you go through,” he told the AJC.
During this process, the superintendent and the board will examine the return on investment from the district’s current initiatives to decide where to invest money and time in the future.
“School systems can’t say yes to everything because then you’re not focused on anything,” he said.
The superintendent is monitoring the federal budgeting process after President Donald Trump proposed a budget that in Georgia would reduce funding for school lunches, teacher training and college aid for promising scientists, among others.
“Obviously, we see a huge need at the federal level for supports in Title I,” he said, referring to the program for federal funding to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families. “It’s dramatic. Without some of that support, I have a hard time wrapping my head around what we would do to support issues of poverty.”
Title I funding is especially critical for schools in south Fulton. Thirty-four schools in south Fulton receive money from Title I, and only two north Fulton schools do. Rose noted that it is too early to see what changes, if any, there will be to federal school funding.
Deputy chief financial officer Marvin Dereef, who presented the budget to the board, said it faced two main challenges: rising health care costs and program costs that are outpacing their federal funding.
"With those challenges, we still managed to provide a budget that includes compensation (increases), minimizes impact to fund balance and addresses some of our needs based on the goals that we’ve established for (fiscal year) 2018," he said.
Fulton will hold public hearings April 20 and May 9 to receive community input. The board will not approve a final budget until June 13.