COVINGTON, Ga. — A $217 million spending plan for Newton County Schools’ fiscal year 2023 was approved Tuesday night.
During a regularly scheduled meeting, Board of Education members voted 4-1 (Trey Bailey opposed) to pass the budget. With the approval, nearly $183 million is dedicated for staff salaries and benefits — amounting to an approximate 7% increase.
With the budget’s approval, the board OK’d the following changes from the tentative budget passed in May:
- Under revenue, the addition of $114,197 to QBE State Earnings
- Under expenditures, decreased line item #114 (Audio Enhancement Upgrade) - $100,000
- Under expenditures, removed line item #119 (Teacher check out laptops) - $200,000
- Under expenditures, removed line item #138 (Social Studies Weekly) - $75,000
- Under expenditures, removed line item #77 (Student Self-Harm alert tool) - $60,000
- Under expenditures, added to line item #28 (Property and General Liability Insurance) - $34,066
With the listed changes made, the school will operate with a projected revenue total of $201,860,715, which is an increase of 6.72% from the FY 2022 budget. Expenditures increased by 8.69% from the previous year’s budget.
Per district documents, the budget was formed using an estimated digest of $3.818 billion and a millage rate of 18.288 mills.
Bailey, representing District 1, said his issue was the district’s apparent plan to spend more money than what was being projected to come in and be forced to use about $15 million from its beginning fund balance to balance the budget and leave approximately $29 million in reserve.
“I appreciate the work that the team has done, and the superintendent,” Bailey said before the board voted. “I still feel like … it might be aggressive — the budget that we’re passing — particularly in the financial climate that we find ourselves in, and with all indicators from most prognosticators that we’re headed into a potential recession, if not entering one now, maybe in the next 12-18 months.
“I just don’t think now is the time to be spending more than we are collecting in revenue,” Bailey continued. “I believe it endangers the potential senior citizens tax exemption that [the board is discussing], and I believe it potentially puts our millage rate at risk of not going down or potentially going up. That’s the way in which you would make up revenue is by increasing the tax or not giving an exemption.”
Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey said the district’s spending plan was formulated with conservative revenue estimates.
“I have been very cautious; the team has been very cautious with our expenditures,” she said. “If I didn’t think we were in position to make the recommendation, I certainly would not … We try to be good stewards of taxpayers dollars.”
Of the $15 million being used to balance the budget, Fuhrey said about $10 million was going toward staff pay increases — something she believed was necessary to keep Newton County Schools in the mix to hire and retain the best available employees.
Bailey suggested looking at more cost-effective — even free — ways to do that, such as finding ways to improve teachers’ work environment and ways to avoid burnout. Furhey assured Bailey that such work was being done, but she also said retention woes weren’t limited to teachers. Apparently all departments are seeing staff members leave for higher-paying jobs in surrounding areas.
Also, Fuhrey made clear that the district’s ending fund balance amount of $29 million would be in line with state recommendations, which was to maintain 7% of the district’s budget in reserve but has since increased to 15%.
Before the vote, District 2 Board Member Eddie Johnson voiced his acceptance of the budget, despite not approving every aspect. He said he felt like the board and district staff had done their due diligence to come up with the best possible spending plan.
“Do I like everything in this budget? Absolutely not,” he said. “Can I do any better? I’ve reached the conclusion, absolutely I cannot. That’s why I’m going to vote [to approve the budget]. Will I give up on reducing this going forward? [Absolutely not]. But what can I do tonight? I have to recommend we pass this budget.”
Unlike many surrounding school districts, the Newton County Schools BOE will take time to review the FY2023 budget toward the end of calendar year and make amendments, if necessary — a practice done annually for the last several years.