Clayton County Schools budget: Buy laptops, freeze teacher salaries

The Clayton County School District is tightening its budget for next year, but still expects to buy a laptop for every student in case virtual learning is needed again because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The south metro Atlanta district has tentatively adopted a $694.1 million budget for the fiscal 2021 school year, which begins Aug. 3. That spending is about $60 million less than the school system had anticipated before the crisis because of cuts to education funds traditionally received from the state and local tax collections.

“Because of low revenue collections and also because of high unemployment we are projecting a decrease in local revenue,” Clayton Schools CFO Emma Benton said Wednesday at the first of two public budget hearings the district plans to hold.

Clayton plans to pass a final budget on June 22.

The belt tightening is being repeated across the metro area and the state as school systems try to plan operations around a shaky economy and lack of clarity on the future impact of COVID-19. Adding to the uncertainty is a state budget that could see further changes after the General Assembly resumes its truncated session on Monday.

Clayton’s budget includes a freeze in teacher salaries, a decrease in contributions to the Teachers Retirement System and the use of almost $40 million in the school system’s fund balance, the district said.

“The salaries will be frozen this year because of the financial situation,” Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley said. “The expectation is once we get through this … the compensation process and studies we’ve been doing will continue.”

Leaders also said teachers won’t have to face cuts in pay, but that came with a qualifier.

“At this time furlough days are not recommended,” Benton said, leaving open the possibility if there are more state cuts.

The district’s budget includes $487 million in general funds spending, $71.1 million in special revenue, $89 million for capital projects and s46.2 million in the enterprise fund.

More than $7 million is set for buying laptops. Beasley received special permission from the board earlier in the pandemic after it became clear that some students couldn’t access digital learning because they did not have a computer at home.

Wednesday’s public meeting also yielded a question on funding for school resource officers. Some schools are doing away with them in the aftermath of the George Floyd’s death while in custody of Minneapolis police.

But Beasley said he has no such plan.

“Our school resource officers do a pretty good job of building relationships with our students and I anticipate they will continue to do so,” he said.