GEORGIA — After residents voted down the proposed school budget, school officials in Georgia are coming up with alternatives to the proposed $14 million budget ahead of a future revote.
During the March 9 meeting of the Georgia School Board, Georgia Elementary School Principal Steve Emery said he and Georgia Middle School Principal Julie Conrad would present several budget options to the board for its March 23 meeting. Once the board has narrowed down its options, a date will be set for a second vote on the revised budget.
However, unless positions are cut, Conrad said only roughly 6% of the budget can be controlled due to the number of fixed expenses.
“It really is an incredibly small amount of money that we have to play with without cutting positions,” she said.
Georgia voters on March 2 shot down Article 2 on the school ballot, 662-495. It was the only local ballot measure that failed, and made Georgia one of three municipalities across the state to vote down its school budget on Town Meeting Day.
Insurance costs in particular helped swell the Georgia Elementary and Middle School’s proposed budget from the $13.5 million approved by voters last year to $14.1 million this year — a 4.51% increase.
According to a flyer shared by the school district, health insurance costs accounted for more than 62% of the school district’s increased spending. The school district’s budget presentation states that health insurance costs increased $377,470 due to a premium increase and statewide bargaining, and wages were set to increase $253,350 due to teacher contracts, contributing to a total increase of $610,686 over last year that cannot be altered.
Under the budget proposed by the town’s school board this year, Georgia’s education tax rate would climb from $1.4732 in 2020 to $1.6047 in 2021.
Per pupil spending in Georgia, according to the school board’s current budget proposal, would come out to $16,195 per equalized pupil. While that figure is still below the estimated state average of $17,612, it was this figure that Town Clerk Cheryl Letourneau and others at the board’s March 9 meeting cited as a major issue among voters.
On the ballot, the language of the article states that the per pupil spending would increase 6.35%, a figure that Letourneau and others at the meeting said appeared to mislead voters into thinking the budget had increased by that amount.
“I think we need to be really, really clear in the difference between the increase in our budget and the increase in the per pupil equalized spending,” said board member Andrea Milne.
Letourneau and others at the meeting said voters also questioned why the budget would increase when school is not open full time. Emery said the work of educators to adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic should be highlighted, and expressed pride in the work of his staff to adapt to different learning models.
“I would like the voters to know that because we might be in a hybrid model, that doesn’t mean we’re doing half the work,” he said.
In addition to discussing mailers and various print and digital communications to voters ahead of the revote, board members discussed holding the revote at a location other than the town clerk’s office. On Monday, Letourneau confirmed the election could take place via Australian ballot at Georgia Elementary and Middle School after clearing the change with the state.
“We just have to have notice out there that the voting place is being moved to the school,” she said.