TIFTON — The Tift County Board of Education is in a holding pattern with regards to the FY2020-21 budget and the school calendar for the 2020-2021 school year until the state government makes some decisions.
Superintendent Adam Hathaway suggested at the May 14 meeting that the board hold off on reviewing and approving the FY2021 budget at the usual time, which is in June, until after Governor Brian Kemp signs a state budget.
Hathaway said that they have heard that all state agencies, including the Georgia Department of Education, have been told to expect budget cuts of 14 percent per the governor’s request.
“The appropriations committee has sent a recommendation to (State Superintendent) Richard Woods that we cut all of our programs across the board 14 percent, for all government agencies,” he said. “Whether or not that’s really 14 percent by the end of it, I don’t know. Until everybody gets a vote and they move that to the governor’s office and he approves the budget, there is no telling what it’s going to be.”
He said that while planning for 14 percent cuts would be a “safe bet,” Hathaway urged the board to hold off on approving a local budget until the state budget was approved and allotment sheets are given to the school system. Instead the board would enact a spending resolution, which would allow the board to operate month by month with 12 percent of the previous year’s budget until they have the information they need to create an accurate budget.
He said that he is not expecting the spending resolution to still be necessary in August.
“We’re in really good share financially,” he said. “We have a healthy reserve fund. The piece I want to keep reminding everybody is that this is not 2008. The reason our economy has dipped is because we have made it dip. It’s not because of a real recession like the housing market crash of 2008.”
“It it remains at the 14 percent, we have estimated all of that revenue and that cost to be about $7 million for us in Tift County,” he said.
“We’re getting about $2.7 million worth of CARES money that will fill a lot of that gap,” he added. “We are able to cut the budget another $1 million. Obviously some of the savings we’ve having over the last two months can spill over into that piece and I feel very, very confident about us…dipping into our rainy day fund, our reserve fund in order to pull us through this time.”
Hathaway said that at this time the school district is not looking at furloughs, hiring freezes or raising the millage rate.
“Our community has taken a beating right along with us,” he said. “I don’t think that it would be good for us to put that financial burden on our community right now as well.
“Having said all that, if this rolls for another year, two years, we’re looking at FY22 and FY23, we may get into the bone a little bit. We may not just be cutting fat and meat at that point in time. But right now I don’t think we’re at that place.”
Hathaway said the school system is planning on adopting several strategies over the summer to save money, such as going to a four-day work week.
Hathaway also said that he felt the board needs to “revamp” the FY2020-21 calendar but that he is hesitant to suggest any changes until they hear more about what the state legislature is planning.
“We’re kind of in limbo when it comes to this calendar because we’re waiting to see what the state legislature is going to do and whether or not they’re going to push everybody back. They’ve talked about a start date after Labor Day. There’s also some conversation about pushing back face-to-face instruction until after Labor Day [which] would allow some schools to start back up digitally if they wanted to and then work the face-to-face piece back in.”
There are a variety of conversations being held across the state with regards to how school districts manage going back to school, Hathaway said.
“I don’t know how you socially distance kindergarteners,” he said.
If at all possible, Hathaway wants the school calendar to start when it’s supposed to start.
“I hope that in June we may be able to make some decisions about the calendar,” he said. “When we get into July we may have to change our calendar around a little bit based on what comes out of Atlanta.”
Hathaway also said they were looking at working in “distance learning days” into the calendar, where students stay home and attend classes virtually. He was looking at those days like a fire drill, a way to practice virtual learning in case something like the COVID-19 pandemic happens again.
A couple of board members raised concerns that this could be a hardship on working parents who would have to take off work on those days.
The board discussed changes to the Student Code of Conduct, including keeping them digital and only printing the booklets upon request.
They also discussed changes to the code to reflect changes made in the school board’s policies, including changes to the Right To Know section, the corporal punishment section and the section about school discipline.
Hathaway said that discipline is going to be a progressive model that taken into account the student’s offense and previous behavior. Teachers will have a matrix that ranks offenses from level one through four and lists the consequences allowed for each level. Hathaway explained that the code now applies to being on school campuses, at school events both here and in other counties, at any school events or functions either on or off campus or while traveling to and from school or school events on school buses.
“We’re trying to modify the behavior,” he said. “It’s not just about punishment. I know some people think that discipline is all about punishment but that’s not what our disciplinary process is.”
The board also discussed an annexation request for the CTAE building in the works for Tift County High School.
Hathaway said that while the high school grounds are in the city limits, the part of the campus where the CTAE building will be going is in the county and that poses an issue with law enforcement jurisdiction.
School Resource Officers (SROs) are officers with the Tifton Police Department and would not have jurisdiction on that part of the high school campus. Hathaway said that the annexation request would post no issues with code or construction, but they want to make sure that the SROs stationed at the high school would have jurisdiction there.