Clayton planning for tough future, school alternatives amid pandemic

Clayton County leaders plan for the worst as they look at the fiscal 2021 budget and fall school calendars during a virtual town hall. LEON STAFFORD/AJC

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Clayton County leaders plan for the worst as they look at the fiscal 2021 budget and fall school calendars during a virtual town hall. LEON STAFFORD/AJC

Clayton leaders say they are planning for the worst as they anticipate the impact a possible second wave of the coronavirus could have on schools this fall and what it could mean to the county's budget in fiscal 2021.

At a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday on a myriad of topics — from MARTA operating fewer buses to concerns that nail salons and restaurants may have opened too soon — officials said the south metro county could be in for a tough year of leaner budgets and possible layoffs because of significant virus-related local and state revenue losses.

“The state could face a $4 million shortfall over the next 15 months without federal aid, likely meaning furloughs and layoffs across the government,” state Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale, told the audience. “The shortfall could top 10% to 20% of the current state spending, which goes for everything from teacher salaries to prisons to health care to road building and other programs.”

The assessment comes as residents, after weeks of sheltering in place and homeschooling, are tuning into the virtual county commission, city councils and town hall meetings to get a glimpse of the county's and nation's future.

Clayton Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley said while the district expects to open on time in August, he is crafting a 2020-2021 academic calendar that will incorporate digital learning as part of the plan if infections force buildings to close.

“The data suggest we may have periods of a surge once we get through this initial pandemic,” he said. “We have been preparing to make sure that we are ready for that in the new school year.”

Clayton District Health Director, Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo, said the county has around 680 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 24 deaths. But he expects those numbers to jump as presumptive positive cases are added in as well as those who have died and were later determined to have had the virus.

During the meeting, Clayton Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said the county is backing off plans to bring government staff back to work on Monday. He said the county is fine-tuning safety measures and set a tentative date of May 11 for workers to return.

Clayton County is hoping all is not bleak. Burnough said the county's legislative delegation is seeking a portion of the $338.5 million in federal stimulus funding allocated to Georgia's capital to help replace lost funding at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

“We have sent a letter to Mayor (Keisha Lance) Bottoms asking that Clayton County receive a portion of the airport funds that were sent from the federal government,” Burnough told viewers.