Clayton Schools to dig deeper on teacher pay to remain competitive

Clayton County Schools may dig deeper into its fund balances to help raise teacher salaries.

Clayton County Schools may dig deeper into its fund balances to help raise teacher salaries.

Clayton County Schools may have to dig deeper into its general fund balance to increase teacher pay to attract and retain teachers, district leaders said Tuesday.

During a school board meeting on the district’s fiscal 2024-2025 budget, the leaders said Clayton is falling behind its competitors in staff salaries because it has been less willing than others to dip into its fund balance to raise pay.

Clayton plans to dedicate about 5% of its general fund to staff salaries next year. Other school systems, such Atlanta Public Schools and the DeKalb County School District, are planning to use more than 20% and 40% respectively, Clayton leaders said.

“Everybody at this time is spending out of their fund balance,” school board chairwoman Jessie Goree said. “And we need to do something to be competitive.”

Districts across metro Atlanta in recent years have struggled with how to pay higher teacher salaries as more and more school systems face a shortage of educators. Salary increases have come from a combination of sources, including general funds, federal grants and increased state collections.

Clayton plans to pay teachers $2,500 more next fiscal school year at a cost to the district of around $11.6 million. Staff salaries — which include central office staff, custodians, bus drivers and others — make up about 88% of Clayton Schools expenditures.

The district is projecting a general fund balance at the end of the fiscal year in June 2025 of about $160 million.

Superintendent Anthony Smith said the district has some alternate funding options that the board can discuss, and that the school system is in good shape financially given its size and Clayton County’s tax base.

“Based on our number of students and (full-time employee) counts, we have probably the healthiest general fund balance,” he said. “I will compare ourselves to next to Fulton” County.

The school board agreed to delay approval of the budget to give district administrators more time to figure out possible solutions. The new date has not been set.

Board member Mary Baker said she was frustrated that Clayton is trying to make its decision after other school systems have settled their plans. She added that the district needs to have these budget discussions earlier.

“I hope that next year we’ll start taking people’s opinions earlier,” she said. “Let’s not wait ‘til spring. So that when we see what the money is going to be, we can start figuring this out.”