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In order to handle a nearly $8 million budget shortfall, Murray County Schools has added four furlough days for its teachers and staff for the upcoming school year.

The decision to include furlough days came after the district received $1 million less in equalization funds from the state and as districts across Georgia are facing a 10% budget cut due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Steve Loughridge, the superintendent of Murray County Schools, is also the district's finance director. After the school board voted to approve the furlough days at Monday night's meeting, Loughridge told the Times Free Press the district found several ways to handle the shortfall.

Without in-school instruction at the end of the spring semester, the district saved about $3 million. The district has also decided not to fill a handful of open positions.

Revenues for the district are projected to be about $5.8 million less than last year, Loughridge said. The four furlough days will save the district about $873,000, he said. The rest will be covered by last year's savings and the district's general fund savings.

Loughridge has taken COVID-19 into consideration when crafting this year's budget. It includes $40,000 more for school nursing, doubling janitorial supplies to $50,000 and $250,000 for bus repair and maintenance.

Last year the district paid about $150,000 for its bus system, but now that buses need be cleaned after every route, it will pay bus drivers more, hope to hire additional drivers and pay more for cleaning supplies.

The four furlough days will be Sept. 4, Nov. 11 and June 2-3, 2021, which all were previously scheduled as professional development days for staff. Students will not lose any days of instruction.

While considering furlough days, the district also has three plans in place for the fall semester as coronavirus cases in Georgia continue on the upswing. The three plans include kids in school as scheduled on Sept. 8 with strict health and cleaning guidelines in place, a staggered schedule of "A" and "B" days on which half of the students come on each day, and a third plan that is virtual learning only.

K-12 schools are facing a 10% budget cut statewide due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 10% is a slightly better outcome than the estimated 14% that was floated by lawmakers and financial policy makers earlier in the pandemic. Many districts will use savings and emergency funds to help offset some of the budget shortfalls.

Across the county line, Dalton Public Schools and its board agreed on a budget with two furlough days for its staff for fiscal year 2021. The district was originally planning to add between six and 10 furlough days but received an additional $1.3 million from the state in equalization funds that helped reduce that number to two, officials said.

The equalization formula considers average property wealth per student in a school system as well as the number of students and property tax rates.

Theresa Perry, chief financial officer for Dalton Public Schools, said the district also included more money for cleaning supplies amid the pandemic.

Whitfield County Schools opted against furlough days.

Catoosa County Schools was the first district in the area to announce it would cut staff pay (by 5.5%.) Students will have five fewer instructional days, and five teacher in-service days will be eliminated. That decision was made in May when districts thought they would be looking at a 14% budget cut.

Now with the 10% cut, the district instead will use $7 million from its reserves and will not make a staff pay cut.

School districts in Dade and Chattooga counties have said they are planning to open schools with students in classrooms.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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