By Gracie Bonds Staples
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Fulton County parents will get another chance to voice concerns about proposed school budget cuts on Thursday when the board will hold a public hearing.
In addition to increasing the millage rate, school superintendent Cindy Loe said last week she will recommend an additional $28 million in cuts to shore up the district’s $120 million deficit. The hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Dunwoody Springs Charter Elementary School at 8100 Roberts Drive in Sandy Springs.
Although no vote is expected, the board tentatively has plans to adopt the proposed budget on May 11 with final adoption set for June 8.
Loe said the millage increase should bring in an additional $28 million in revenue. Parents and school employees have called for a tax increase for weeks now in hopes that it would save in other areas, namely the district’s popular elementary school band and orchestra program and cuts to school social workers and counselors.
Loe originally proposed cutting social workers and counselors by 50 percent but later asked for and received a 25-percent reduction instead because the school district was given $6 million more from the governor's office than was projected.
Despite continued objections from parents, the board is moving forward on Loe's recommendation to convert the elementary school band and orchestra program into a fee-based, after-school program and has asked local contractors to submit proposals to run it. Contractors have until Thursday to submit proposals.
In an effort to save the program, parents recently hired a consultant to help them lobby for its preservation. John Benham, a nationally known music consultant who has fought to save school arts programs in 47 states, including Georgia, said his goal is not to attack the board but rather to work collaboratively.
"We're here not to save teacher positions but to save curriculum," Benham said at a meeting with parents last Saturday. "This is after all Fulton County, where students come first."
He said the district's financial crisis "represents the best opportunity to restructure the program and at the same time make it financially more viable."
The board over the past two months has voted to accept Loe’s recommendation to cut 1,000 positions, including 500 teachers, many of whom might keep their jobs 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.
Although school districts across metro Atlanta are facing huge budget deficits, Fulton is the most advanced in the budget process and the first to approve cost-cutting items such as increasing class size, eliminating the summer CRCT retake program and reduce the school calendar from 180 to 177 days.
In addition to the tax increase, Loe is expected to recommend cutting, among other things, central office operating costs by 10 percent, requiring all employees to take three furlough days and stopping door-to-door transportation for its magnet students.