However, the board did approve Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa’s request to start fundraising for a Teach For America contract.
After an hour-long discussion among board members about what they wanted the budget to look like and how they wanted to deal with the $62 million deficit the district is facing, the board voted to reject an amended recommendation by Hinojosa.
“Based upon the dialog that I’ve heard around this table tonight, I would be willing to reluctantly accept Alternative C with the full understanding that it will put us in a very dangerous place,” Hinojosa told the board.
Alternative C included restoring all elementary media parapros and having only three furlough days rather than the five he originally recommended.
But when Board Chair Scott Sweeney called for a vote, it was rejected 4-3, with Tim Stultz, Alison Bartlett, vice chair David Morgan and David Banks voting against it.
The four board members voted against the budget for varying reasons.
Banks preferred an alternative of his own, which swelled the already $62.4 million deficit by about $28.5 million by recommending the district only have two furlough days, not increase class sizes at all and restore all elementary parapros.
Bartlett and Stultz didn’t suggest any changes to the original budget that Hinojosa recommended.
“I don’t feel the urgency from the board about the situation we’re in,” Stultz said. “We need to look at greater cuts.”
When Sweeney asked Stultz where those cuts would come from, Stultz replied that “90 percent of our budget is salaries and benefits, so a majority of that would have to come from that.”
“You would support about $54 million reduction in salaries and benefits across the board?” Sweeney asked Stultz.
“We’re already facing that for future budgets,” Stultz said. “The time, unfortunately, is here.”
Cutting $54 million from the budget would force the district to eliminate around 700 jobs, including the 350 Hinojosa has recommended.
Morgan said he wanted to restore elementary-level media paraprofessionals, but not the furlough days.
If the board had approved Hinojosa’s amended recommendation, the district would have dug $7.1 million further into their reserves, on top of the $21.5 million the superintendent had already recommended, dropping that fund from $99 million to about $70 million.
Hinojosa called the move “dangerous” because board policy requires at least one month’s running costs in the reserve fund.
Mike Addison, the district’s chief financial officer, said it costs about $71 million to run the district for a month.
After the board meeting, Addison said that he couldn’t recall a time in his 29 years with the district that a budget hadn’t been approved at this point, and Hinojosa said that never in his 18 years as a superintendent had it happened.
“We’re in overtime now. I keep using baseball analogies, but we just went into extra innings,” he said. “It was disappointing that we didn’t get a budget. We need to move on. Luckily, we have another month.”
Dr. Stanley Wrinkle of west Cobb, who retired in 1994 after serving as assistant superintendent for Cobb Schools for 18 years, said he couldn’t remember a time when the budget wasn’t approved.
“It’s a very difficult position for the board itself to put the district in,” Wrinkle said. “The board has made a very serious mistake by going this route.”
He said there is no fat to trim from the budget.
“It is the optimum it can be right now,” he said. “I can assure you nothing is in the budget right now ... that can changed in any way.
“It is beyond reasonable belief that this board would have put the school district administration, and in particular the teachers — who have already gotten contracts — in this position,” he said.
However, Bill Rogers, who served as the district’s chief financial officer for 31 years, said the board shouldn’t approve any budget they aren’t comfortable with.
“The objective is to have a good budget that meets the board’s requirements ... so take whatever time is necessary, even if it is later,” he said.
Addison said after the meeting that the budget must be approved no later than June 30, and if the budget is approved after that, then the state could essentially withhold funds.
Sweeney said the board will more than likely hold a special called meeting to further discuss the budget, but he is unsure when that will be.
In other business, Hinojosa said he was pleased that the board decided to give him permission to move forward with fundraising for Teach For America.
After spending nearly 45 minutes talking about the program and what Hinojosa was asking for, the board voted 4-3, with Kathleen Angelucci, Stultz and Bartlett opposing.
“I do not support this at all,” Angelucci said. “It’s appalling, a real slap in the face. This is very difficult for me.”
Angelucci argues that the six-week training that Teach For America teachers undergo before being put into the classroom is insufficient.
“You wouldn’t choose an attorney who went through a six-week book camp,” she said.
However, Morgan said principals should at least be given the option to choose what teachers they want to serve in their schools.
“I’m hearing that if you bring in Teach For America, it’s an indictment to our teachers … we are putting an option on the table,” he said. “I believe the ability to compete in our society brings a better product.”
Hinojosa echoed Morgan’s remark when explaining how he could reconcile cutting jobs while asking to add 25 TFA teachers.
“Those would be for vacant positions that the principals will fill anyways, and they would have a chance to pick from those Teach For America teachers … Mr. Morgan made my argument very well,” he said.
Board members allowed Hinojosa to look for funds to pay for TFA training with four stipulations: the number of possible hires is limited to 25, funding for their training couldn’t be taken from the General Fund, current Cobb teachers can’t be displaced and principals have the discretion to hire who they like.
Hinojosa said he will not start fundraising until after the school year is over and hopes to have the money raised by August, with the expectation of bringing back a contract for FY14 before the board in early fall.
Hinojosa said only 15 of the 350 jobs the district is expected to cut remain filled.
The board also approved a $699,000 contract with Northside Psychological Services of Atlanta to provide mental health services for 35 schools in Areas 5 and 6, which are located in north and west Cobb.
Matt Yancey, project manager for Success For All Students with the district, said providing this service is very important because so many children in these schools come each day with unmet social and emotional mental needs.
“They are providing services that otherwise would not have them,” he said. “It’s for the long-term sustainability of this project.”
The board approved the district’s request to move their 16-member staff to an agency that is in a better position to sustain them, Yancey said.
The service will be paid for with what remains of the Safe Schools/Healthy Students $8.5 million grant that the district received from the federal government in 2008. Since the beginning of 2009, the district has helped about 1,000 students in these two areas.
July 1 will mark the end of the grant, but the district has applied for a no-cost, one-year extension that Yancey is confident will be approved any day now. He is unsure what will become of the service at the end of the extension but said he hopes that the therapists will continue to work in the schools but with a different agency.
The board also approved 10 principal hires: Kelly Metcalfe, McClure Middle; Jenny Douglas, Pickett’s Mill Elementary; Peter Manson, Russell Elementary; Alfreda Williams, Bryant Elementary; Dr. Patrice Moore, Bullard Elementary; Dr. Kelly Luscre, Big Shanty Elementary; Monica Howard, Kennesaw Elementary; Deborah Broadnax, Powder Springs Elementary; Angela Stewart, Lovinggood Middle; and Stacey Abbott, Hollydale Elementary.
The principals at all but Bryant and Powder Springs elementary schools are retiring after this school year.
— Assistant News Editor John Roach contributed to this report.