JONESBORO — Chief Financial Officer Ken Thompson said the 6,653 individuals employed by Clayton County Public Schools will be the last options in trimming the district’s annual budget.
“Our objective this year, we’re seeking not to have a reduction in force,” said Thompson, who presided over the district’s Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee meeting Thursday. “Personnel is the last thing on the list.”
Thompson shared his proposal to ask departments to cut their operating budgets by 5 percent — excluding personnel-related costs. His plan also includes freezing out-of-state travel paid from the general fund.
He pointed to the United States Budget Control Act of 2011 and Georgia House Bill 399 as major hurdles toward balancing next year’s budget.
The federal act, known as sequestration, was signed into law in August 2011 and went into effect earlier this month.
Thompson said the district stands to lose about $855,000 annually in sequester cuts over 10 years.
In February, the school board voted unanimously to condemn what members called “across-the-board budget cuts,” signing a resolution urging “Congress and the administration to amend both the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act to mitigate the drastic cuts to education.”
Thompson said there are six federally-funded programs that will be affected by this month’s sequestration but department heads have helped to lessen the impact. They were asked — when this budget year began in July — to make cuts to federally-funded programs.
Programs losing funding include Title I, which provides resources to economically-disadvantaged student populations, and Title III, which funds English to Speakers of Other Languages programs. The district’s special education program also receives supplemental funding through the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
House Bill 399 passed in the Georgia House of Representatives this month and could cost the district millions in potential revenues if it becomes law, said Thompson. The legislation would prohibit local governments from collecting ad valorem taxes from businesses leasing space at airports run by another government.
The district could see an immediate loss of $350,000 if the bill moves forward.
Thompson said the potential tax digest at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is worth as much as $9 million in revenues for the district but, in recent years, the district has not received the full amount of revenues due to legal matters with the tax commissioner’s office.
He said the district will be able to absorb the $350,000 it expects to collect, with savings from its $34 million fund balance.
Thompson asked committee members what they consider the district’s greatest budget need for 2013-14.
Computer-based assessments, classroom technology, class sizes and school security were among citizens’ concerns.
Jonesboro resident Andre Wilson was appointed by board member Mary Baker to represent District 6 on the committee. He asked officials about their progress in making schools safer and more secure.
Officials confirmed the district has taken steps to improve security at schools, including updated security cameras and keyless locks. The upgrades are being made with revenues from the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Riverdale resident Melody Totten represents District 2. She was recently nominated by board member Mark Christmas for the committee appointment.
Totten said she had concerns about large class sizes — side effects of budget cuts and revenue shortfalls in recent years. She also proposed officials look at moving toward online class options for middle and high school students to help reduce costs.
“We have too many students in the classroom,” she said. “We’ve got to start thinking outside the box.”
Officials said the district enrolls some of its students into Georgia Virtual School but has not gotten enough participation in online courses to expand the option locally.
“In some cases, we’ve got some answers,” said Thompson. “And in some cases, we’ve got some things to look at.”
The committee will meet again April 18.