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School districts’ 2021 budgets in disarray from COVID fallout

State funding reductions will hit local classrooms

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NORTH METRO ATLANTA — With classrooms set to open in three months, school leaders in Fulton and Forsyth counties are tackling budget issues that may present the next great challenge.

Last month, Georgia legislators directed all agencies, including the Georgia Department of Education, to prepare for a 14 percent cut in Fiscal Year 2020-21 spending. To date, the state has lost more than $1 billion in revenue tied to the COVID pandemic.

Meghan Frick, communications director for the Georgia Department of Education, said the budget cuts will impact student allocations under the Quality Based Education (QBE) formula, which allocates state education funds based, in part, on student enrollment. This will be a departure from previous budget cuts in which QBE was exempt from reductions, she noted.

For Fulton County Schools, a 14 percent cut translates into a $56 million loss in revenue it receives from the state. That’s about 35 percent of the district’s billion-dollar budget.

In Forsyth, state funding accounts for 52 percent of the district’s $479 million budget this year. A 14 percent cut in state funding for 2021 could leave a $33 gap.

Fulton Chief Financial Officer Marvin Dereef said the district is leaning hard on lessons learned during the recession of 2007-09 to navigate the COVID pandemic.

He noted “healthy reserve funds and conservative spending’’ by the school board mitigated the need to furlough staff or raise taxes during the recession. Today, that same approach will likely weather the pandemic as well.

“[We] again will take a conservative budget approach and use a three-tier budgeting process to ensure resources will be available for our students and staff,” Dereef said.

The process includes adopting the FY21 budget on time June 30, continuously assessing needs and re-allocating as needed, and making mid-year adjustments as new information on finances and the pandemic impact are available.

Dereef said the FY21 budget will maintain the current millage rate on property and not raise student meal prices. Any gaps between revenues and expenditures will be closed through a drawdown from the district’s reserve funds, he said.

In Forsyth County, Chief Financial Officer Larry Hammel presented a budget overview in April for the School Board in which he projected measured optimism for the district’s financial picture for the current fiscal year.

Local tax collections, including property, ad valorem and intangibles, through March were significantly ahead of figures from last year. However, April and May figures will likely present a different picture, he noted.

“So, do I think these [March] figures are going to hold? I don’t think so, especially for the month of April,” Hammel said. “We’ll have to see how May goes with the opening up of the economy again.”

The May 12 meeting of the Forsyth Board of Education did not contain a budget update on the agenda.

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

(1) comment


Ah - Georgia - the white trash state.

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