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Hinojosa Prefers Layoff Alternatives

The Cobb school superintendent wants to avoid cutting teachers to balance the budget.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa would rather dip deeper into reserves than resort to layoffs if attrition doesn’t meet the plan to cut 350 teaching positions.

The school system is 200 teachers short of that 350 goal, Hinojosa said during Wednesday’s Cobb Board of Education work session. But even though that’s behind the predicted pace, he said he expects attrition to do the fiscal dirty work.

Last year Cobb schools lost 320 teachers from this point until the end of the school year, Hinojosa said.

“I think it’s unfortunate, the bit of news that you bring up—the people leaving aren’t matching up to expectations—because the last thing we want to be in position to do is to lay off teachers,” said board member Tim Stultz, who represents Post 2 in Smyrna.

Cutting the teaching staff by 350 positions is part of Chief Financial Officer Mike Addison’s plan to close a $62.4 million deficit in the budget for next school year.

The preliminary budget he presented Wednesday also calls for five furlough days, a 175-day school year, a half-year delay in the step increases in teacher salaries, bigger classes and reductions in the hours of paraprofessionals working in school libraries. In short, it’s the plan Addison offered in January and explained in his March budget newsletter.

“I think it is fiscally irresponsible not to make these cuts,” Addison said.

Even with the cuts, the budget uses $21.5 million from the school system’s nearly $100 million fund balance to close the deficit.

Hinojosa said the school district can use more of that reserve fund if the teacher attrition doesn’t meet expectations.

Post 7 board member Alison Bartlett said that’s a change in approach for a district that has used layoffs.

Hinojosa noted the chaos the Cobb schools experienced two years ago when the system laid off hundreds of teachers, then hired most of them back.

“We’re trying to avoid those things, but in the end, we could do either” layoffs or deeper reserve spending in the unlikely event that attrition falls short, Hinojosa said.

He said the staff will present criteria at the next work session for possible reductions in force, and he instituted a soft hiring freeze Monday.

Post 5 board member David Banks, however, argued that none of the attrition—in fact, none of the proposed cuts—is necessary.

“The teachers, the students, the employees and the community does not have to endure any of these monetary cuts now,” Banks said.

The East and Northeast Cobb representative argued that the school district should cover any shortfall from the fund balance. In his view, the fund balance is a rainy-day fund, and this is the rainy day.

“It’s a decision we have to make: When is it critical to look into that contingency?” said Post 1 board member Lynnda Eagle of West Cobb.

Eagle proposed two changes to the preliminary budget: She wants three furlough days instead of five, and she wants to restore the money for the library paraprofessionals in elementary schools.

Adding two more school days would add $6.5 million to the budget; the library staffing would cost about $590,000.

Banks also raised the possibility of suing the state to get the $72 million Cobb should receive but isn’t getting under the quality basic education (QBE) funding formula.

“If the state was fully funding the QBE formula, we would not be having the budget problems we are dealing with now,” Chairman Scott Sweeney of East Cobb’s Post 6 said.

The school board will vote on the preliminary budget April 26 at its regular meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. The board will hold a salary hearing at 6:30 that night.

Another salary hearing and a hearing on the full budget will be held May 7, and the board will adopt the final budget May 17.

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