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Staff Photo by Tim Barber/ Steve Loughridge, superintendent in Murray County, said it's a little too early to tell what kind of cuts his district will face. "We'll see a budget savings if kids can't come back to school. We've been telling people that we'll probably see furlough days but there are a lot of things we still need to know," he said.

After Catoosa County Schools announced that employees should expect to see a 5.5% cut in pay next school year, other districts in Northwest Georgia are making decisions on how to handle a statewide 14% budget cut.

On May 1, the state gave notice to all agencies to prepare for a 14% budget cut due to the economic shutdowns caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Statewide, the Georgia Department of Education estimates the proposed cuts for the fiscal year starting in July at $1.6 billion.

Catoosa County is preparing for a $12.6 million budget cut due to the coronavirus pandemic. That county will be changing its calendar for the next school year. Students will have five fewer instructional days, and five teacher in-service days will be eliminated.

Tim Scott, superintendent of Dalton Public Schools, said administrators will recommend the same calendar adjustment. With that, Scott said, he has told all employees to expect a reduction in pay for the next school year.

"We will bring that to the board, and they will vote on it June 8," Scott said.

Dalton Public Schools is looking at an estimated $7 million cut. Getting rid of 10 days on the calendar will save about $3 million, Scott said. To make up the other $4 million, Scott said the administration is looking at all possible options.

"We're looking at every department," Scott said. "We're looking at any unfilled positions and asking ourselves, 'Do we absolutely have to have that position?' We're talking to all of our schools and getting ideas from everyone to find a way through this while continuing to have a strong educational program."

Scott said the district still has three payments to make for capital improvements at elementary schools.

Dade County Schools does not plan to cut employee salaries and does not anticipate any furloughs next school year. The district is expecting to receive $1.8 million less than originally planned in state funding, a little more than one month of the reserves the district has saved up.

Superintendent Jan Harris said at a recent board meeting the district received about $360,000 in the federal coronavirus relief funding which — alongside using reserves — will help offset any shortfalls or cuts to revenues.

The district will also see savings from paying less to the district's retirement fund. The employee rate is dropping from 21.14% to 18.05% in fiscal year 2021.

"I would not anticipate any salary cuts or need for furloughs for next year," Harris said. "However, we will be holding on posting or hiring any new positions."

The district is expecting to refill vacated jobs from retirement.

"We can weather the storm. If the funds are cut by 14%, we will see a deficit budget for 2021," Harris said. "However, we have reserves for times like this. That's exactly why we save money, and we are good stewards for our money. When we have extra money, we save it."

Harris said the school district has already started to make changes and decisions that will save money. Certain positions, like one in the central office and one at Dade Elementary, will not be filled. Coaches have been mowing lawns. Administrators have taken turns taking out the trash without the ability to hire custodians.

"We're all pitching in, and we'll tighten our belts and get through it," she said. "We're thankful for that."

Walker County Schools is looking at an estimated $9.2 million cut. Superintendent Damon Raines said the school board will begin discussions on how to handle the shortfalls after June 15, when the state legislature is scheduled to meet.

Whitfield County Schools is expecting to have $14 million less to work with. Superintendent Judy Gilreath said the initial numbers are only estimates and she and her administration are currently working on a proposal for the board June 15.

Steve Loughridge, superintendent in Murray County, said it's a little too early to tell what kind of cuts his district will face. The district has implemented an unofficial hiring freeze for positions left open from retirees and is considering furlough days for staff but will wait and see what the legislature does before any final decisions are made.

"We don't know much right now," Loughridge said. "We'll see a budget savings if kids can't come back to school. We've been telling people that we'll probably see furlough days but there are a lot of things we still need to know."

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

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