At its meeting on July 7, the Dawson County Board of Education approved a tentative $59 million budget for the 2020-21 school year, involving no cuts to teacher pay or furloughs.
Until Tuesday’s meeting, the upcoming school budget had been uncertain due to state funding reductions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Original estimates from the state hinted at reductions in funding of between 11 and 14%, but with the recently approved Georgia Education Budget, state funds were only reduced by 10%, according to Chief Financial Officer Jamie Ulrich.
“We do have information about our state funding that we didn’t have at our board retreat before,” Ulrich said to the board on Tuesday. “The CARES money that we’re gonna receive is going to be $418,000, and our local 5 Mills money is going to be $7.2 million, so this brings us to a total revenue of $42 million.”
Though revenues were lower than previous years, School officials said that hard work by school system finance staff, salaries and benefits for teachers at the schools won’t be affected.
“A lot of work went into getting the expense money down,” Ulrich said. “So we’re not gonna be having any furlough days or reducing any benefits or supplements.”
Elaine Wilson, chairwoman for the Dawson County Board of Education, said that this outcome is one that sets Dawson County apart from others nearby.
“Everything I’ve heard from counties around us is they’re having to add furlough days or less students days,” Wilson said. “But we’re not — this community should be so appreciative of the work that has been done to get this budget where it is today.”
Ulrich added that avoiding extra furlough days in the school calendar can make a huge difference for the teachers.
“When you add even a day a month of furlough, that’s a lot,” Ulrich said. “People might not think losing a day of pay a month is a lot but when you add them up to 10 days of pay, that’s a lot of money.”
Salaries and benefits make up 87.9% of the budget. For the 2020-21 school year, additions to the budget will include no new growth positions but will include two new sign language positions.
Superintendent Damon Gibbs summarized the tentative budget before presenting it to his fellow board members for approval.
“For FY21 we’re gonna experience about 6%reduction in total revenue, totaling about $2.7 million,” Gibbs said. “But with significant reductions in all areas of our organization we’ve reduced our total expenditures by $2.776 million, and we will end FY21 with $6.15 million, which is a 14% ending fund balance.”
Gibbs reiterated how important the ending fund balance is in case of unseen circumstances throughout the school year.
“In the past, we’ve seen that midyear adjustments have been made to our detriment instead of our benefit, and a $6.1 million fund balance will allow us to absorb those types of things within reason,” Gibbs said. “We will be able to withstand that and make it through without cutting any services to our students in the FY21 year, which I think will put us in a stronger financial position going into FY22.”
According to Gibbs, the goal of the school system in its budgeting process, as with everything else, is to bring the best instruction possible to the children of Dawson County.
“Our focus remains on providing the highest quality instruction to each student in Dawson County,” Gibbs said, “and I can assure you as a community that our team is strong and prepared to meet any challenges in the upcoming school year.”
The Board unanimously approved the tentative budget for the upcoming school year. A second budget meeting and final vote on the 2020-21 budget will take place at the called board meeting on July 21 at 12 p.m.