Rockdale County Public School officials are sounding a note of cautious optimism that next year's student calendar could be reinstated to a full 180 days and staff furlough days eliminated based on a sunnier outlook on the tax digest and funds from the state.
RCPS Finance Director Lee Davis said during Thursday's school board finance committee meeting, "Compared to last year, it's been very pleasant to hear this time around. It's going the right direction."
Last year was one of the worst budget years Davis said he had seen. The school system grappled with a 19 percent drop in the tax digest, or amount of taxable property. The student calendar was cut to 170 days, with eight furlough days for year-round staff and seven furlough days for school-year staff, and the education portion of the property tax rate was increased by 1.5 mills to make up the budget deficit.
This year, during preliminary talks this year with his city and county counterparts and with Tax Commissioner RJ Hadley and Tax Assessor Lamar Sims, Davis said there have been positive signs.
Superintendent Richard Autry said previously the school system's priority is reinstating the 180-day instructional calendar and a full calendar for staff; having a full working calendar would represent about 3 percent more in income for RCPS staff, who have had their STEP increases frozen over the last three years.
"I didn't think there was a chance in the world we'd go from seven or eight (furlough days) to none (in one year). I thought it would take multiple years," said Davis.
He noted that the school board finance committee may see a tentative budget by May 15 that might even allow the millage rate to be rolled back.
"That would be a huge win for us and the community," he said.
More funds are also coming from the state as it imposes smaller austerity cuts. The Quality Basic Education funding formula is now funded at about 90 percent instead of 85 percent, Davis said. School board members noted RCPS is owed more than $7 million from the state due to austerity cuts.
RCPS looks to add teaching positions for the next school year -39 certified positions and 5.5 special education positions. The state Department of Education has yet to give final approved allotment numbers but Davis said state DOE representatives said they did not anticipate any major changes.
In the 140 day count, there were about 16,220 students, or about 220 students higher than last year at this point.
Officials also noted the growth in the special education population; the school system received about $1 million additional funds from the state for the increasing special education students.
Autry noted the quality of RCPS's special education programs and said staff would look further into the factors of the special education population and whether increased diagnosis was involved
The school board finance committee is due to meet again May 8 before the school board work session.