The proposal includes 5.1% raises and 2% retention payments for all employees — from teachers to administrators to cafeteria workers. Several other metro Atlanta districts have offered similar raises. New teachers who agree to work at schools the district has identified as “hard to staff” will receive a one-time $5,000 bonus. Current teachers who refer another teacher to hard-to-staff schools will get $250. The total price tag for the pay increases and bonuses is $57.8 million.
Budgeting from scratch
For the past ten years, Fulton County has used a planning process called “modified zero-based budgeting.” Marvin Dereef, the district’s chief financial officer, said that means each department develops its annual budget from the ground up.
“You establish what you need to accomplish for next year, then you’re developing the funding for it,” he said.
Dereef says the method is more efficient than the district’s former strategy, where money was budgeted for departments before they came up with a plan to spend it.
“I think the first year we did this, we quickly were able to cut $17 million because people were just rolling over things (from the previous school year) that they didn’t need,” Dereef said.
The Fulton County school board has set two key guardrails for its budgeting process. The first is having two months (more than 20%) of its fund balance on hand. Dereef said initial budget drafts didn’t meet that standard.
“We had to cut some things … to ensure that we meet that threshold,” he said.
The second requirement is spending at least 75% of the budget directly on schools. Dereef said 78% of the current budget proposal is allocated for schools.
A stable millage rate
The millage rate is the number of dollars taxed for every $1,000 of property value. Fulton expects its millage rate to stay flat this year at 17.24 mills. The district won’t officially set the rate until the county tax assessor’s office confirms revenue collections sometime this summer. The cap is 25 mills.
The district projects the millage rate will stay the same through the 2028 fiscal year.
The school board is expected to take a final vote on the proposal at its June 6 meeting. The district has held two public hearings on the plan, but community members can still email comments to the budget services department at firstname.lastname@example.org.