Cobb County school board members have rejected Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s list of ways to whack $86.4 million from next year’s budget.
Board members, in a tense five-hour meeting Wednesday, said the list wasn’t creative, didn’t reflect staff and public input or preserve the learning environment Cobb parents have come to expect.
Board members told Hinojosa to come back to them with a longer list from which the board can pick and choose.
“This is not a list I have buy-in with,” said board chair Randy Scamihorn. “We need some elbow grease. We need some options.”
Hinojosa is predicting $807.6 million in revenue and $894 million in expenditures next year, a shortfall largely attributed to decreased property tax values and state austerity cuts.
At last month’s board meeting, Hinojosa proposed a 13-item list that included shifting a large portion of high school classes into online courses, cutting five days from the school year, eliminating transportation to magnet schools and giving district staff five furlough days. He also suggested outsourcing janitor services, laying off several school and central office staff, eliminating raises for the rest of the employees and pulling $22.2 million from the school district’s fund balance reserve.
The cuts would result in increasing the average high school and middle school class size by at least three students.
In a special work session Wednesday, Hinojosa’s staff gave a detailed presentation to respond to several board members’ concerns.
But board members weren’t satisfied.
They said outsourcing janitorial staff would allow strangers into the school, getting rid of salary increases would demoralize the staff, and getting rid of magnet school transportation would deplete the schools of some of their star students. In all, board members took issue with more than half of the proposals.
They then took turns suggesting their own ways to cut spending: get rid of in-school suspension, cut out professional development and travel for a year, get rid of benchmark testing and quit buying new textbooks.
Several board members suggested pulling even more money from the district’s fund balance, a sort of savings account the district uses for emergency situations.
“I think the taxpayers gave us this money to put in the classroom,” said David Banks. “It’s not there to save it in the bank; not to say to the community we’re financially healthy.”
Hinojosa and his chief financial officer, Brad Johnson, said they created the list as a worst-case scenario. They said pulling from the reserve fund was a slippery slope that could lead to more drastic cuts in the future.
“I thought I was in a fiscally conservative county,” said Hinojosa. “Maybe I was wrong. I thought our taxpayers wanted us to spend our money wisely. If you don’t want us to be conservative, you’ll have to direct us in that regard.”
Hinojosa pointed out that no board member suggested raising the millage rate, which would result in more revenue from property taxes.
The administration is expected to make a new proposal on April 17.
The board plans to make a decision by May 16.