The Forsyth County Board of Education made final approval of a $520 million school district budget for 2022 at its regular meeting Tuesday, June 15, supporting pay increases for all employees while directing funds to new school openings.
Chief Financial Officer Larry Hammel originally presented a tentative budget to the board in April before Forsyth County Schools received final confirmations on state and local revenues.
Since then, board members also asked that he include a 1% Cost of Living Adjustment for employees and bring up the percentage of fund balance to expenditures to 15%.
Hammel was able to make both of these changes, bringing in both the COLA and a step increase, a raise based on work experience, back into the budget after being removed last year following state austerity cuts caused by the pandemic.
The board unanimously approved the FY 2022 budget totaling $520,120,671, which are all of the costs the school system expects to incur over the next year.
Higher than in previous years, Hammel explained that the budget heavily reflects costs relating to new facility openings this year as the district plans for 123 new positions within Hendricks Middle and East Forsyth High Schools along with the Academies for Creative Education and the new performing arts center.
The new positions include four assistant principals for both East Forsyth High School and Hendricks Middle School, a principal for New Hope Elementary School and 26 new custodians for the four new buildings.
The majority of the budget, 72%, will go toward instruction, which includes salaries and benefits for employees and operating expenses.
On the other hand, the district is expecting to receive $508,812,049 in total revenues to its general fund.
Hammel said they also plan to bring down the estimated fund balance from the beginning of the year to nearly $78 million, which would be 14.99% of the FY 2022 budget.
This percentage allows the district to keep their AAA bond rating, but with an unexpected increase in recent Educational Special Local Option Sales Tax revenues, the district is not planning to put out a bond referendum in the next five years.
“This is something we’ve been working on now for more than six months,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden said. “A lot of input from board members, a lot of individual meetings going through the needs of the school system. I think it’s a very cost-efficient budget.”
Bearden explained that the millage rate will also remain the same as in recent years at 17.3 mills.
Several of the board members expressed how happy they are with the now approved budget, excited to see raises for employees coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school district recently used part of its pandemic relief funding to provide bonuses for teachers after first using extra funds to stave off furlough days during this past school year, but the board members also made it a goal to be able to fit those raises back into the budget.
“We’re able to go back to where we were before COVID, and we’re able to give the teachers back their step raises,” vice chair Wes McCall said. “We’re able to give them the COLA they deserve I think.”
Each of the board members, along with Bearden, thanked Hammel for his work on the project.
“We thought it would take us years with no steps, no COLAs, that it would take us 2-3 years to get back up to 15% so that we could keep our AAA bond rating,” chair Kristin Morrissey said. “Now, we’re not doing bonds and we’re up to 15% and we did a COLA and steps, so I’m really excited about this budget.”