Cobb's final school budget: bigger classes, fewer school days

Students in Cobb County will get another day off over the winter holiday as well as a couple more days off during the rest of the school year

That is one result of the austerity budget approved by the county school board Monday. Another result: more crowding in classrooms.

The $841.9 million budget approved on a 4-3 vote is similar to the tentative budget approved in late April, but with two big exceptions. The tentative 2012-13 budget would have cut hours for media center paraprofessionals, but their funding remained intact in the final budget. Also, the tentative budget had five teacher furlough days, but the approved final budget has three.

The school calendar will shrink from 180 days to 177, with school closed on Dec. 21, Feb. 15, 2013, and May 30, 2013.

"I wish we didn't have to give any furlough days, but hopefully teachers will understand," said board member Lynnda Eagle, who voted for the budget.

One major item didn't change. Cobb still plans to eliminate 350 teaching positions, which will cause class sizes to rise by an average of two students at every grade level.

The school system will use $28.2 million in reserves to close the remaining gap between projected costs and revenues. That should reduce next year's reserve fund to the bare minimum under board policy: about $70 million, enough to run the school system for one month.

Parent Sarah Lyons regrets the cutbacks but understands the need. Her home lost 40 percent of its taxable value last year, she said, and she just learned that it dropped another 20 percent this year.

"I'm grateful for the lower taxes," she said, "but I know what it means for the county and the school board."