Clayton Schools class sizes may get bigger in 2019 but not teacher pay

Clayton County residents can expect larger class sizes for their kids and no raises for teachers next fall as the district tries to balance its budget for the coming school year.

Residents may also expect to be hit with a property tax increase.

During a Tuesday work session, the Clayton Board of Education gave a quick rundown of the proposed $690 million fiscal 2019 budget. It includes a 50 percent cut in operational costs such as contractual services and supplies at the district’s central offices, a push to raise the county’s millage rate to 20 mills — the most allowed by the state — and more funds to cover the county’s contributions to Georgia’s teacher retirement fund.

"Benefit [costs] continue to rise," Superintendent Morcease Beasley said in a May video address to employees. "You should know that's not you, that's not me, that's not the board, that's the state."

The budget has been controversial, however, with accusations by some in the public that Beasley has mismanaged spending, including hiring staff in senior positions. While Tuesday’s work session lacked comments from the public, two hearings earlier in May were more combative. Dozens of residents turned out with some questioning the proposed class size increases and expressing worries that teachers would lose their jobs.

Beasley is finishing his first year as the district’s leader and has moved the needle in raising its profile, with a 70 percent graduation rate and keeping all but one of its schools off Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2017 list of underperforming schools.

That's significant for a school system that many in metro Atlanta still associate with a loss of accreditation in 2008. (The district regained its accreditation in 2013.)

Clayton also faces the possibility of losing $9 million it gets annually from a jet fuel tax at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is in Clayton County. The Federal Aviation Administration has said money from jet fuel taxes can only be used for airports and has said it intends to stop future payments, although it is not clear when that might happen.

Beasley has said the district will not eliminate jobs, but does expect around 250 teachers to leave the 55,000-student district because of retirements, attrition and resignations.

An initial budget suggestion proposed that the district adopt furloughs for teachers on days missed because of inclement weather in fiscal 2019. But that recommendation met with resistance from the board and residents and Beasley backed off.

“The board was very clear, ‘No furlough days,’ ” Beasley said in the employee video. “We’ve taken furlough days off the table.”