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Board Business Briefs: School Board Hears Legislative Update

The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, heard updates on the current state legislative session and how the proposed state budget and legislation may impact school operations.
The presentation by Chief of Staff Mike McGowan reviewed education funding in the Governor’s proposed budget, which includes a $2,500 raise for teachers plus a 4.1% raise for certain classified positions.  If the school board were to continue its history of extending the raise to all full-time employees not covered by the Governor’s proposal, it would cost $2.4 Million in local funding.  If the school board also were to approve step increases, which are the standard locally funded raises usually approved each year by the board, that would cost an additional $5.7 Million.
Whether the school board will have the needed $8.1 Million to expand the Governor’s raise and approve step increases will depend on local tax digest growth and the impact of state legislation.  
One such anticipated impact is an expected proposal by Cherokee County’s state legislative delegation to eliminate or alter the current property value cap on the senior school tax exemption.  While seniors age 62 and older currently only pay school property taxes on the value of their home in excess of $485,500 (with the cap increasing annually along with Social Security cost of living adjustments), seniors have lobbied legislators to exempt them from paying any school taxes.  Such a measure would require approval by voters countywide; the state delegation could vote to add it to the ballot as soon as May.  If a countywide referendum passes in May, it would mean a loss of an estimated $14 Million or more in next school year’s budget.  The school board, in its CCSD Legislative Partnership Program priorities, asked the delegation that, if it does adjust the current waiver, to consider adding residency requirements and/or require verification that no school-age children reside at the property.
Another potential impact would be the legislature’s passage of taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools.  Also known as “education savings accounts” or “promise scholarships,” these vouchers could potentially negatively impact future funding for public education.  The school board, in its legislative priorities, stated its opposition to the implementation, expansion and/or continuation of any voucher programs for private schools that do not include financial and academic accountability measures mirroring those that public schools must meet.
The school board’s budget for next school year also will be impacted by the ending of federal pandemic funding -- a $17 Million loss for CCSD; increases in the State Health Benefit Plan cost for employers – a $2.2 Million increase for CCSD; and a 4% increase in the annual employer costs for Teacher Retirement System. 
The budget presentation highlighted several positive additions to the proposed state budget including increases in state funding for transportation – $3.5 Million more for CCSD for a total of $6 Million in state funding toward CCSD’s $30.2 Million transportation budget; and a statewide school security grant program, which will provide each school with a $45,000 grant to use toward safety and security costs.  The school board has lobbied for many years for state funding for these areas.
“This is all really good news for us,” Mr. McGowan said of the teacher raises and other increases in education funding in the proposed state budget, noting in each case there are significant local costs.
The school board at Thursday’s meeting also adopted the Georgia Education Coalition’s 2024 Legislative and Policy Priorities.  The school district is a charter member of the organization, which is made up of Georgia’s largest school districts.  Its legislative priorities closely mirror the CCSD Legislative Partnership Program priorities set by the school board in December.
The school board also:
•    Elected Patsy Jordan to serve as a one-year term as school board vice chair;
•    Recognized CCSD Elementary School Math Competition Winners.  Learn more here;
•    Approved monthly financial reports; 
•    Approved out of state staff travel;
•    Approved out of state and overnight student field trips;
•    Approved the monthly update on capital outlay projects; and,
•    Approved the monthly personnel report.