APS plans to cut $31M from budget, use $30M from financial reserves

Atlanta Public Schools could spend nearly $30 million from its financial reserves to help fill a budget hole caused by expected state cuts. 

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and Chief Financial Officer Lisa Bracken on Thursday presented a tentative budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It includes an estimated $31 million in cuts, plus using almost $30 million from the district’s reserves to balance the budget. 

APS estimates it will receive about $813.5 million in general fund revenue for the upcoming budget. That’s $52.6 million less than this current fiscal year, and about $60 million less than what officials had expected. The revenue drop is largely due to expected state cuts prompted by an economic downturn amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The district projects it will start the next fiscal year with up to $112.5 million in its financial reserves. Officials plan to dip into that to fill about half of the budget gap, leaving a projected fund balance of $82.8 million by June 30, 2021. 

Bracken told the school board’s budget commission on Thursday that using the fund balance in the upcoming fiscal year will mean the district has to make “harder decisions” the following year. 

“By depending on fund balance for one year, we’re really just kicking the can…, and buying us some time to think more strategically about how we make bigger cuts next year because I’m only anticipating worse revenues to come,” she said. 

Officials are trying to avoid employee furloughs and layoffs. And while APS will receive millions of dollars from the federal coronavirus aid package, officials want to preserve as much of that money as possible to pay for things that will be needed for the next school year. The district may need to purchase protective equipment such as masks, additional cleaning supplies or cover the cost of schools starting at staggered times. 

Next year’s budget does include $31 million in budget cuts. Officials said the district will save $5.8 million by delaying the purchase of new textbooks. Schools will give up about $5.6 million in rainy day funds, and the district will cut the per-pupil allocation to schools by 1.8%, or $5 million total across the system. 

In addition, officials have proposed $8.69 million in central office reductions, among other cuts. 

Officials do not expect to change the property tax rate. 

The school board will consider approving a tentative budget on June 1, with a final adoption scheduled for June 22.

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