By Gracie Bonds Staples
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Fulton county residents soon may get the additional tax some of them have been asking for. It just might not bring the parents' desired result of saving a music program.
Superintendent Cindy Loe recommended to the school board at its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday that the millage rate be raised by one mill.
The increase, one of several recommendations the superintendent made to shore up the system's 120 million budget shortfall, would bring in an additional $28 million in revenue, Loe said.
“You have been great stewards of taxpayer money by rolling back the millage in earlier years,” Loe said. “But now as property values are declining, we need to address millage.”
The board will consider Loe’s newest recommendations at its next meeting on April 22 at Dunwoody Springs Charter Elementary School.
Some parents, upset over the elimination of the district’s popular elementary band and orchestra program, have been advocating raising the millage rate for weeks as a way to either reinstate the program or, as a compromise, provide a fifth-grade-only program.
But the school district is moving ahead with its plan to convert the elementary school band program into a fee-based after-school program and has asked local contractors to submit proposals to run it. Contractors have until April 22 to submit proposals.
Loe has said the district had little choice in cutting the band program because it operates solely on local funds.
Still parents have pledged to continue their fight to keep the program. They said they will again make their case to the board on April 22.
Only one parent, Jacquette Quashie, addressed Thursday’s meeting but her comments had nothing to do with music. Quashie, president of the PTSA at Langston Hughes High School in Fairburn, said that under the proposed budget cuts the county would lose 27 of its counselors.
“That’s unacceptable. Counselors are the glue,” she said. “They hold the key to student progress, especially at the high school level.”
On Thursday, the superintendent also recommended, among other things, cutting central office operating costs by 10 percent, requiring all employees to take three furlough days, and stopping door-to-door transportation for magnet students.
“They will have to get to their home schools and ride the bus from there with other students,” Loe said.
School districts across metro Atlanta are facing huge budget deficits. Most have decided so far to take similar steps, from trimming staff, to furloughing teachers, cutting community education and increasing class sizes. Fulton, which is furthest along in the budget process, is the first to approve cost-cutting items like increasing class size, eliminating the summer CRCT retake program and reducing the school calendar from 180 to 177 days.
Board member Katie Reeves stressed early in the meeting that none of the districts has spent its system into the ground.
“Every school system is required to have a balanced budget every year by Georgia law,” she said. “We are simply trying to bridge the gap between our expected revenues and expenses.”
The Fulton board over the past two months has voted to accept Loe’s recommendation to cut 1,000 positions, including 500 teachers, many of whom may in the end keep their jobs as the reductions come through attrition.
The system is proposing a 2011 budget that is about $120 million less than the 2010 budget -- from $857 million to $737 million.
In other business, Loe recommended the board reject applications for nearly a half dozen start-up charters, including those for Chattahoochee Hills and Young Leaders Collegiate Academy.
Loe also commended the Northview High School chamber orchestra for its performance recently at the National School Boards Association conference in Chicago. The orchestra was chosen from about 100 other ensembles for the honor of performing during the conference’s April 10 opening session.