Dalton, Ga., school board unveils budget with added teachers, staff pay raise

Dalton, Ga., school board unveils budget with added teachers, staff pay raise

April 18th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Dalton Board of Education members, from left, Matt Evans, Richard Fromm and Palmer Griffin listen to parents and other community members voice their questions Tuesday, March 13, 2018, at Dalton High School in Dalton, Ga.

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. — With a big boost in state funding, the city school system hopes to hire seven new teachers and raise salaries 1 percent across the board.

The Dalton Board of Education introduced its latest budget draft during a public meeting Tuesday night, highlighted by proposed spending and revenue increases. Compared to Fiscal Year 2018, next year's budget would go up $6.3 million, an 8.6 percent increase. Revenues, meanwhile, would go up $4.8 million, a 6.5 percent increase.

Budget at a glance

› Total revenues: $79.4 million (6.5 percent)

› Total expenses: $81.1 million (8.6 percent)

› Current fund balance: $13.9 million

› Proposed fund balance: $12.8 million

Of the extra money coming in, about $2.8 million is from the state. The other $2 million would be from local property owners, covering a debt payment on a new bond. Voters approved the bond in a referendum in November, with the money going to construction of a new sixth- and seventh- grade academy.

"I think these address our strategic goals properly," Fromm said of the proposed budget Tuesday night.

Of the teacher hires, one will work at Blue Ridge Elementary School, one at Park Creek Elementary School, one at Roan Elementary, two at Brookwood Elementary and two at Westwood Elementary.

The hires will reduce class sizes at those schools. The state has maximum levels for students per class, though school systems can receive waivers to go above those limits. The class size limits vary based on the grade. At Dalton Public Schools, spokeswoman Pat Holloway said, the average class size is two students above the limit.

For example, the limit for a kindergarten class is 20 students. But here, the average size is 22 students.

"Something we had consensus around was trying to reduce class sizes at the elementary level and probably targeting K-3 for that," School Board Member Matt Evans said. "We hope it would translate to higher student achievement and student attainment and higher outcomes."

The school system's tax rate is still pending, as administrators wait for updated information on some property values. But the board expects a slight bump to pay off a portion of the $46 million bond it issued last month to pay for the new school. The budget calls for a $2 million payment this year.

The board projects a 0.546 millage rate increase to cover that debt. For a home worth $100,000, school administrators project the tax boost to cost an extra $55. The added property tax increase would be about a 6.6 percent bump compared to the current year.

A bigger portion of revenue increase will come from the state. In March, the legislature approved a budget that fully funded the Quality Basic Education Act formula for the first time since 2002. Before the new budget, the state was underfunding schools by about $167 million.

Overall, the state is giving Dalton Public Schools about $2.8 million more this year. Of that money, about $800,000 is a result of the new state budget. Another $1 million is coming to the system this year through equalization, which is a part of the funding formula based on the income level of families in the district.

The state looks at appraised property values for different systems, determines what the average value is in the state, then gives extra money to the systems with lower-than-average values. This year, the school system got $1.5 million. Next year, it will get $2.5 million.

In addition to the teacher hires, this budget would allow the system to hire the equivalent of 10 more employees. (Some hires will only work part time.) The proposed list includes two elementary school paraprofessionals, two Dalton Middle School special education teachers, one Dalton High School special education teacher, one elementary school English language learner teacher and one Dalton Middle School counselor.

Around the region

The Whitfield County Board of Education will hold its first budget hearing April 30. The Catoosa County Board of Education usually holds a work session in June or July, spokeswoman Marissa Brower said. Walker County education officials did not respond to a question about their schedule as of press time.

Tim Scott

Tim Scott

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

This would also include three part-time English language learner elementary school teachers, one part-time early intervention prevention teacher at Brookwood Elementary School, one part-time Dalton High School transition coach and one part-time maintenance position.

The budget also calls for four new school resource officers. Three would go to the system's elementary schools. Another would work at Dalton High School, which already has one school resource officer. On Feb. 28, a Dalton High School teacher fired a handgun out of a window in his empty classroom, forcing a police standoff and emergency evacuation of the school. The incident prompted discussions about school safety among students, parents, administrators, city officials, police officials and state representatives.

The board plans to hold another public meeting in May and approve the budget in June. It will hold its final vote on the property tax rate in August.

With new spending outpacing new revenues, the board plans to draw down from the fund balance. This year, it sits at about $13.9 million. The board plans to decrease by about $1.1 million. Fromm said state education officials recommend boards keep the fund balance between 5 and 15 percent of annual expenses.

If the fund balance goes down as expected right now, it would be at about 16 percent of expenses.

"That money should be going back to the students rather than just growing in the reserve fund," Fromm said.

With the new sixth- and seventh-grade school coming, some board members wonder whether they should budget differently this year. When the new building opens, they wonder how it will impact other expenses.

As a result, they wonder if they should prepare for those expenses now. For example, they also may move Morris Innovative High School students to another campus, which will have more room as a result of the sixth- and seventh-graders shuffling to a new space.

"We're not looking at just one year," Superintendent Tim Scott said. "We are looking into the future."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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