No furloughs for teachers in Cobb schools budget

The Cobb County School District's proposed 2021 budget includes no furloughs or pay cuts for teachers. AJC file photo)
The Cobb County School District's proposed 2021 budget includes no furloughs or pay cuts for teachers. AJC file photo)

Board members want to study how the school tax exemption affects the district

Cobb County teachers and staff will not have to worry about furloughs when virtual classes resume next month.

The proposed fiscal year 2021 budget for the Cobb County School District, which is about $1.3 billion, includes pay raises for eligible staff members. It also funds an additional 59 positions and does not include pay cuts for teachers and staff, despite the district having to reduce spending by 10% due to loss of state funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who announced last week that the district will start the school year virtually on Aug. 17, said school system staff members have responded “successfully and professionally to each obstacle they have encountered over the past several months and need to know that we are there to support them.”

“They are our first priority because they make our students their first priority,” he said.

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The current starting pay for Cobb County School District teachers is $46,942, and can go as high as $98,912 for educators with doctorate degrees and decades of experience, according to district documents.

Brad Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer, said the budget is based on a 5% growth in the county’s tax digest. The proposed budget calls for holding the millage rate steady, but if property values increase, property tax bills will too.

The Cobb school board last week tentatively approved the budget, which allows the system to move forward with advertising the document for public comment. Final approval is scheduled for the Aug. 20 board meeting.

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The discussion among board members about the budget turned to the school tax exemption in place for people age 62 and older and the affect it has on revenue. Johnson said the most recent figures show the exemption amounted to a $132 million loss in revenue for the district.

Board member Dr. Jaha Howard said he believes the district should explore a study to determine the full impact of the exemption on the district. He said additional funds could buy cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment or devices such as laptops or Wi-Fi hotspots so less fortunate students could learn remotely.

“We are a great school system, but we have room for improvement,” he said.

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Board member Randy Scamihorn said he objects to the discussion around any changes to the exemption. He said Howard’s ideas were “so socialistic” and the district already provides good education and technology for its students.

“I regret that we have to beat (this) dead horse every year,” he said.

Board member Charisse Davis, who in the past has called for the district to study the topic, said it is the board’s goal to use data to drive its decisions.

“For some reason, we refuse to do that with this particular topic,” she said.

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