The Forsyth County Board of Education discussed the district’s fiscal year 2023 tentative budget at its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 17, after recognizing more than a dozen local students who have won in state and national competitions.
Chief Financial Officer Larry Hammel originally presented the tentative budget to the board at its work session on Tuesday, May 10, where he explained that the $578,498,654 proposed budget would include salary increases for all FCS staff members.
Hammel gave another presentation to the board, explaining the breakdown of the expected revenues and expenditures coming up in the 2022-23 school year, and Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden reminded the board and crowd of some of the budget’s highlights.
These include a minimum $2,650 salary increase for all certified staff; a step increase for all eligible staff, which will total $4,000 for some; and a minimum of a $2,000 salary increase and 1% cost-of-living adjustment for classified staff.
On top of these increases, the district is proposing to increase all employee salaries to a minimum of $15 per hour and to increase substitute teachers’ pay from the current $85 per day to $120 per day for noncertified teachers and $145 per day for certified teachers.
The tentative budget would also set aside $12,950,000 for a one-time supplement to all FCS regular employees. Bearden said they are not sure how much the supplement will be for employees, but it will be determined during the 2022-23 school year.
“We know we have to remain regionally competitive,” Bearden said. “I believe this budget proposal does that for our school system.”
Another $33 million would be reserved to lower the debt service millage rate from the current 2.418 to 1.418.
Tom Cleveland, District 3 board member, emphasized that the budget and cost of instruction has gone up through this past year not only because the district is opening New Hope Elementary School in August, but also because enrollment continues to increase significantly.
“As we watch our enrollment from October until March of this year, that six months is the largest growth we’ve had in years,” Bearden agreed. “Folks are continuing to move to Forsyth County, so we anticipate that growth for the foreseeable future.”
To handle the new school and this increase in students, FCS is focusing on recruitment and retention of its staff — a goal that was also laid out in the district’s new strategic plan approved last month.
BOE Chairman Wes McCall said he believes, however, that adding the proposed 272 new positions to help support the new school and growing student body along with the salary increases could cause issues in the future.
While he agrees staff members deserve salary increases, he worried that it might not be sustainable for the school district as those new positions and increases will roll over into the next budget along with other cost-of-living and step increases for staff.
“So now, what does that sustainability look like when we have an unstable economy?”
McCall said he believes he and the other members could take another look at the tentative budget and find a solution that better works for FCS employees and the citizens of Forsyth County.
“This is a tentative budget, so we have some time to look at that,” McCall said. “But I think that the need and where we’re at with supporting our local community and our staff …. There might be some opportunity to do a little bit more there.”
Bearden said sustainability had been a concern for him and Hammel as they prepared and reviewed the tentative budget, but overall, he believes there are safety measures in place to help address that concern.
He noted that school systems in other parts of Georgia and metro Atlanta have added historic increases in COLA for their employees. But instead of following suit and increasing the COLA in the budget, they decided on adding a one-time supplement for employees to distribute during the 2022-23 year.
“We believe, not knowing exactly how much that will mean for each employee in our school system yet, that helps us remain regionally competitive,” Bearden said. “It does address the sustainability piece because it’s a one-time supplement not built into the cost of living.”
He explained that the budget also includes a 15% fund balance that the district would be able to pull funds from for one or two years in the case of an economic downturn to help make their staff whole.
Bearden said that the district still has one of the lowest costs per pupil out of all large systems in Georgia.
“I looked at my own property tax bill and what I pay for education,” Bearden said. “If I had a child in [the district], 178 days they go to school, it would cost me on my tax bill $23.42 per day for my child to get an education in Forsyth County Schools,” where Hammel also reminded the board they have the highest graduation rate, SAT scores and other metrics compared to other large systems in the state.
McCall later brought up concerns that other school districts in metro Atlanta received millions more in CARES Act funding than Forsyth County Schools as the allocation of the funds was based on the districts’ percentage of Title I funding and poverty levels in the county.
With this added funding, surrounding school districts have been able to significantly increase salaries for their staff.
“But the bottom line is that’s who we’re competing with in the market right now for teaching jobs and administrative jobs,” Bearden said. “If we don’t stay competitive, we’re going to have a real issue here in terms of attracting new folks and retention rates.”
The board voted 3-1 to approve the tentative budget with McCall opposing and Vice Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey absent from the meeting.
Hammel will present the budget to the board again on Tuesday, June 21, for final approval. Before then, community members have the chance to attend budget and millage rate hearings.
Budget hearings will take place June 8, at 8:30 a.m. and June 16, at 5 p.m. Millage rate hearings will take place on June 8, at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and on June 16, at 5:30 p.m. All hearings will be at the Academies of Creative Education located at 1160 Dahlonega Highway in Cumming behind the Board of Education building.
Before voting on the budget, the board also took time at its last regular meeting of the 2021-22 school year to recognize FCS students who have won in state or national competitions during the year.
Dr. Cindy Salloum, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services, called each of the students up to the front of the board room to receive a plaque and shake hands with the board members and superintendent for their achievements.
Here are the student that were recognized:
● South Forsyth High School seniors Anish Narendrakumar and Bianca Jayaraman competed in the state Skills USA competition for digital cinema production. They won first place for their film, “No Way Out,” and will compete in the national competition this summer.
● Jordynn Snyder and Camryn Coen competed at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America state leadership conference, coming away with first-place wins in the Hospitality, Tourism and Recreation competition. Kinsey Watson also competed and won first in Chicken Fabrication.
● South Forsyth High School’s competition cheerleading team won back-to-back state titles in November and February, becoming 7A state champions.
● South Forsyth High School junior Mokshith Mannuru won first place in the BioGENEius Challenge, the most prestigious high school science competition in the world.
● Johns Creek Elementary School student Riya Patankar won the Young Georgia Authors Competition for a story she wrote about “[her] world.”
● South Forsyth Middle School student Emily Tan and Piney Grove Middle School student Trijal Tagadur both won titles at the Constituting America National Contest, winning best STEM project and best middle school essay, respectively.
● South Forsyth High School students Aneesh Karanam, Pranav Marneni, Nihal Amineni, and Aadarsh Battula all became state winners in the National Economic Challenge.