APS could furlough employees to solve Fulton County tax problems

APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.
APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

Atlanta Public Schools could furlough employees to solve a severe money pinch caused by Fulton County tax bill delays.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen on Monday delivered a blunt message about the importance of a Friday court hearing in which APS, Fulton County Schools, and other tax-dependent entities have asked a judge to order taxes to be collected after numerous delays. 

Fulton County property tax revenue makes up about 62.5 percent of Atlanta’s $777 million operating budget, and the county largely froze property values this year.

Last week, the already stalled tax bill process slammed to a halt when the state Department of Revenue rejected Fulton County's tax digest.

“I’m just being as direct as possible: This is so much bigger than the superintendent, the school board. We will be calling... anybody who is willing to listen if this goes south for us on Friday. Let me be clear, we have to furlough the entire staff because we will probably have maybe one more month to be able to pay our bills and our staff and then we’ll have to stop until something else happens which at the earliest would be January,” she said.

Carstarphen made the remarks during a meeting with several dozen parents who gathered to talk with the superintendent about a variety of district topics. The district later sent out an email alerting employees to the possibility of furloughs for “some or all employees.”

At-large school board member and budget commission chairman Jason Esteves said furloughing employees is something the district will pursue as one of the “last options.”

He said the district is considering all maneuvers to resolve the cash-flow problem and to repay a $100 million loan the board authorized last month to help the district make ends meet until the delayed tax revenue comes in. The loan and $470,000 in interest and fees must be repaid by the end of the year.

“We are trying to determine how to pay back that loan. I can guarantee you we will because it’s required by law,” he said. “We are looking at various financial mechanisms to ensure that that loan is paid off.”

The district also will consider waiting until January to give a one-time $500 payment it has promised non-teaching employees in lieu of a raise, according to the email sent by Carstarphen.

APS initially intended to give all employees raises but in September scaled down that plan as part of an effort to trim $4 million from the budget after Fulton County's decision to largely freeze property values, which reduced the amount of revenue the district had projected it would collect. Teachers still received raises, but the district's other full-time workers were told last month they would instead get the one-time payment.

To receive tax revenue by the end of the year, tax bills would need to go out by Nov. 15 since in Atlanta taxes are due within 45 days.

Carstarphen pointed her finger at Fulton County commissioners.

“It’s a very serious situation. And let me tell you, if you want to get really informed and do something in this election season learn about those county commissioners because they are the ones making the decisions about this tax situation that’s putting us all in a very tight spot,” she said.

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