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Tax revenue halts ‘financial drama’ for Atlanta, Fulton schools

Atlanta and Fulton County school leaders spent months closely watching how much cash they had on hand, trying to make the money stretch until the end of the year amid long tax-collection delays.

With the new year almost here, both Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County Schools reported they’ve collected enough tax revenue to lift spending and hiring freezes and pay employees.

APS also will be able to repay on time a $100 million loan that officials said they were forced to take out to cover expenses as they waited for Fulton County tax revenue.

The two school districts were among the government entities that successfully sought a court order to allow Fulton County to begin temporary tax collection amid a fight over the county’s assessments.

In the preceding months, tax collection was slowed by Fulton County’s decision to freeze most residential values at 2016 levels after residents complained about increased property assessments. The state revenue department then rejected the county’s tax digest, stalling tax collection and prompting the school districts and the county to warn a judge of the dire consequences they faced if they couldn’t immediately send tax bills.

Even after a judge agreed in early November to allow tax bills to be sent, the two school districts cautioned that money would be tight through the end of the year as they waited for taxpayers to replenish school coffers. Fulton taxes generate nearly two-thirds of the two school districts’ budgets.

Both school systems implemented short-term cost-saving measures. APS required about 1,200 staffers to take two days off in November without pay. It also delayed a $500 one-time payment for non-teaching employees and froze hiring and spending, among other maneuvers.

A top concern for APS was making sure it repaid a tax-anticipation note by the end of the year. The district is “ready to process” the loan repayment for its Friday due date, Chief Financial Officer Lisa Bracken said Wednesday.

Borrowing that money cost the school district roughly $400,000 in interest and fees.

APS also “will have no issue” making Friday’s payroll, wrote Superintendent Meria Carstarphen in a recent blog post. The Jan. 15 payroll will include the delayed $500 payment plus two days of salary for those furloughed in November, officials said.

Carstarphen noted the district is “in great shape to start the new year without financial drama.”

Fulton schools reported last week that it had received enough tax money to issue paychecks Dec. 22, instead of waiting until Friday as the district previously announced would be necessary.

Spokeswoman Susan Hale said the district also was able to lift its temporary hiring freeze and other moratoriums last week. She said the school system “will be back in full swing” when classes resume in January.

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