Cobb faces drastic actions to cope with school budget crisis. Considers some online high school classes.

computer (Medium)Georgians can grasp just how grave the underfunding of education has become when they read about what’s happening in Cobb County, long considered one of the state’s top school districts and among its most stable.

Tonight, the school chief proposed shifting many high school classes into online courses, cutting five days from the school year, eliminating transportation to several thousand students and giving district staff five furlough days to address an $86.4 million deficit.

This is occurring in one of more affluent counties in the state, a county that lured new residents on the reputation of its schools.

How are the rest of Georgia districts — few with the financial resources and educated middle-class populace of Cobb — coping with drastic funding cuts to their schools? Never mind bake sales. Are they holding blood drives?

I’m not sure how happy Cobb parents are going to be when word of these proposed economies reach them. Many parents will have questions about the online delivery of classes for their high school students. It sounds like the classes will follow a blended model, which combines virtual and face-to-face instruction.

To be honest, I would be nervous to have my children in the inaugural application of a blended learning model as there are always kinks, especially with technology.

I listened to a webinar Wednesday on new technologies in the classroom, and one of the concerns was accessibility and functionality. It will be important for Cobb to deal with those issues before it moves large numbers of students to online learning programs.

Here is the AJC story from the Thursday night meeting of the Cobb school board: (Please note that when the AJC story refers to an average compensation of $75,000, that includes all benefits. The average annual paycheck minus benefits is 33.3 percent lower, according to Cobb.)

This is the sixth year the district has made drastic spending reductions, largely because of deep state austerity cuts and lowered property tax revenue. State law doesn’t allow a school district to run a deficit.

“You can get a lot of nickels and dimes out of the cushion, but that’s not going to get you to $86 million,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. “To get to that big of a number, you have to look at where your big numbers are. It’s with a lot of regret that we present this to you, but the facts are the facts.”

Last year, in order to meet a $62 million budget deficit, the district gave its staff two furlough days, eliminated 350 teaching positions and spent $28.2 million in reserve funds, among other things.

The administrators, made up of Cobb budget and academic leaders, are predicting $807.6 million in revenue and $894 million in expenditures next year. Thursday night’s proposal was increased by $6 million after administrators learned of increased health insurance and retirement costs for teachers. It could change, depending on what happens at the state Legislature next week.

The proposal is likely to draw the ire of parents and teachers in the coming weeks. “This is a very difficult situation you’re in,” Hinojosa told board members. “Whenever you’re facing cuts of up to 10 percent of your budget, you’re going to have to have a very difficult conversation.”

The administrators proposed 13 ways in all to cut the budget. Other options included outsourcing janitor services, laying off several school and central office staff and not giving salary increases to remaining employees. Administrators emphasized they avoided laying off teachers, closing schools, and eliminating music, art and kindergarten programs — actions taken by several surrounding districts in recent years.

Administrators proposed spending $22.2 million in reserve funds next year.

As part of an initiative to turn traditional classrooms into online classrooms, administrators envisioned turning entire hallways into computer labs and having students’ schedules intermingled with online courses throughout a typical day.

The 66 teachers who would lead the program would cost the district $31,500 each, versus the average salary of $75,000 for the district’s traditional classroom teachers.  he program would save the district $16 million next year. (Please note that posters are explaining the $75,000 figure includes the employer portion of benefits health, retirement and Social Security, not simply the paycheck that a teacher receives.)

“Kudos for this type of innovation and thinking outside the box for how we deliver education,” said board member David Morgan. “I got tired of coming back to the same things every year.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

213 comments Add your comment

Deep Cover

March 22nd, 2013
12:14 am

At what point does Georgia realize that it does not have a spending problem, but it has a revenue problem?

Equitas

March 22nd, 2013
12:14 am

Cobb County School District put together an
excellent video presentation on their web page
explaining the budgetary problems.I think
online courses are definitely the wrong answer
for solving the budget problems,and sends the
wrong message to property owners who purchased
homes in the district with the expectation that their
children would receive quality instruction from teachers
that are accessible.

Link- http://www.cobbk12.org/budget/index.aspx

Steve

March 22nd, 2013
5:09 am

Online courses work fine for students who are mature, motivated, and disciplined. Unfortunately, many high school students lack these characteristics. Indeed, many adults lack them. I am also not sure why online teachers would be paid less than in-person teachers.

Georgia Dad

March 22nd, 2013
5:24 am

School system budgets and funding have been ignored for too long. Faced with a $6 million deficit, Floyd County cut over 100 teachers. Dark days ahead for Cobb County.

fjeremey

March 22nd, 2013
5:38 am

There will be many valid protests. The students will love it; they tell me all the time that the online classes are a joke. Yet, how many of you are willing to pay more into the system to alleviate the problem, either directly or with some kind of tax model? You don’t get a Mercedes if you are only willing to pay for a Civic. Clearly the waste and bloat in central offices must be addressed but until we are willing to change how schools are funded, and how much we are willing to provide to schools our protests lack substance. Everything costs money. You can’t have more, or better, if you aren’t willing to pay for it. And right now we don’t spend enough money in the right ways. And how many would be willing to cut some interscholastic sports programs (which are very expensive vs. the benefit to the school) in favor of intramural/club sports (which are much less expensive) so that we can keep/create a richer academic environment? Guaranteed that teachers will lose jobs before a school loses a football team. Emory seems to get along just fine without one, maybe we could too.

HS Math Teacher

March 22nd, 2013
6:29 am

Wow. That headline did get my attention. I lived in Cobb County many moons ago. Cobb is finally having to do what us small, remote systems have had to do for a while now.

If Israel & Iran get into a protracted war, and fuel prices skyrocket, all the schools in Georgia would be in dire straits. Online classes would definitely have to be considered for many systems, and/or a 4-day work week (10 hours/day). Some high school sports teams would go by the wayside.

This is a crazy damned world nowadays. I’ve pretty much lost the sunny optimism for this country that I once had as a younger man.

mountain man

March 22nd, 2013
6:44 am

They could just underestimate their utility bills.

Georgia Dad

March 22nd, 2013
6:51 am

I hope on line courses have improved since my kid took them in highschool and college. Most teachers assigned to these classes treat them as a nuisance and put little effort in. There are no cheap and easy answers.

South Georgia Retiree

March 22nd, 2013
6:57 am

When the state forces these kind of changes, it speaks volumes about the legislature’s priorities. Instead of funding QBE, state leaders are giving away tons of taxpayer money for corporate tax credits, private school scholarships, and so many other similarly wasteful things. When they force public schools to take such drastic cuts, it’s not good for anyone. The result is the best decisions school systems can make, some with potentially terrible outcomes. The old boys under the Dome win again, and our children and grandchildren lose.

concernedmom30329

March 22nd, 2013
7:03 am

Many state legislators are all about these virtual classes for OUR children, not theirs. The majority of legislators who have children use private schools.
It is time for parents to rise up and demand that QBE funding be restored. Yes, DeKalb mismanaged their funds, but I don’t think Cobb did.

Georgia Dad

March 22nd, 2013
7:07 am

Obviously our priorities are out of order when we are willing to spend taxpayer money on a new stadium and yet cut funding for education. We should be mad. Guess we get what we deserve.

Mirva

March 22nd, 2013
7:09 am

Online classes= two words that should strike fear in all parents. UNSUPERVISED TEEN-AGERS. Where do you think these kids are going to go when they have their online classes? At the home of the kid with the parent at home? Heck no, they will be piled in homes with no parental supervision. Who rememberrs the “Lost Children of Rockdale County”. And that was time during AFTER school.

mountain man

March 22nd, 2013
7:12 am

Let’s be clear here, the State may have reduced their funding, but there is NOTHING stopping Cobb county from raising their millage rate to provide the system with more money (other than the TEA party). It would most likely not even be a tax increase, since it would just offset the decline in values of property. The owner of a $300,000 house might used to pay $2000 a year, but now pays $1500 because of lowering of property values. What is wrong with getting the tax back up to $2000?

Georgia Dad

March 22nd, 2013
7:13 am

These online classes are only as good as the programming that goes into them. They are not cheap.

mountain man

March 22nd, 2013
7:13 am

“Obviously our priorities are out of order when we are willing to spend taxpayer money on a new stadium and yet cut funding for education.”

Just a point, but the only “tax money” to be spent on the stadium was new taxes on hotels and motels.

Mary Sue

March 22nd, 2013
7:15 am

Henry County schools are cutting the school year by five days next year, furloughing the teachers those five days, increasing online learning, and considering outsourcing custodial services. Most systems are in the same boat. Fayette is closing schools and laying off teachers. I have been a teacher since 2002. During that time, the state has cut the budget EVERY single year – eleven years of austerity cuts. There are those in politics in this state who do not believe in public education. They want vouchers for private schools. How better to get the people on board than to mess up the public schools by under funding them until they cannot possibly be successful. Wake up people.

Teacher

March 22nd, 2013
7:33 am

Where exactly are all these teachers that are making $75,000? A teacher with 10 years of experience and a master’s degree doesn’t even break $50,000 is most metro districts.

Brewsternews

March 22nd, 2013
7:47 am

I’m not sure why there has been no talk about the state deciding to refuse to supplement Classified employee health insurance this year. This cost has been shifted solely to local boards. There may be some terrible news ahead for bus drivers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food services workers, etc.

Steve

March 22nd, 2013
7:54 am

Just cut out the last week of school. Every year they sit around the last week of school and watch movies, so there’s your 5 day’s including transportation. I don’t know why this is never mentioned, does the board just not want to admit that’s what they do?

what next?

March 22nd, 2013
7:55 am

Online curriculum is a joke. Very little if any direct instruction happening. If they televise the stadium construction I will be able to watch it on my furlough days.

Mountain Man

March 22nd, 2013
7:56 am

“I have been a teacher since 2002. During that time, the state has cut the budget EVERY single year – eleven years of austerity cuts.”

But you need to go back further than that, Mary Sue. Compared to the sixties, we spend about FOUR TIMES as much per student (adjusted for inflation). And back then every student went to school in a brick and mortar building – not these “tornado-magnet” classrooms. The difference is WHERE we spend the money now versus then. Back then we did not have bloated central offices and multi-million dollar SUCCESS FOR ALL programs. We did not spend $30,000 on a SPED student so that he could attend class with the rest of the kids in advanced algebra, while his dedicated parapro was teaching him how to tie his shoelaces.

Cutting STATE education money does not mean that a county has to provide less education funding, unless they were already at the Constitutional limit of 25 mils. There is always the option to raise local property taxes to fund education. But you better be able to account for how you are spending your money presently before you go asking taxpayers for more.

Maximus Desimus Aurelius

March 22nd, 2013
7:57 am

I’ve posted this link before, but thought it would be appropriate to do so again.

It’s amazing how some people ( mostly liberals ) view government spending. When it comes to healthcare, people scream that this country spends so much and get so little in return compared to other developed countries….that we don’t get “value” or “performance”. But when it comes to education, those same people are strangely silent…willing to throw good money after bad!

http://rossieronline.usc.edu/u-s-education-versus-the-world-infographic/

Mountain Man

March 22nd, 2013
7:58 am

“Just cut out the last week of school. Every year they sit around the last week of school and watch movies, so there’s your 5 day’s including transportation.”

I never have figured out why school schedule the required testing A WEEK BEFORE school ends. Why not schedule the testing on the last days of class? Then there is no “dead time” after testing is concluded.

world we live in, in cobb

March 22nd, 2013
8:01 am

Nice to know I will have a senior graduating from a Cobb high school next year and he’ll be caught in this mess – as he was with the Math revamp, Common Core, etc. The main concern is how will colleges look at these “online courses” versus the “rigor” that is suppose to be in their programs…and on it goes!
As an educator in Cobb I have had to live through all of these furloughs, “RIFS”, board issues, SPLOST and artificial turf at ALL high school football fields (and those that already had it got it for their practice fields!). None of this will go away until the powers that be quit being greedy and those of us who keep getting stepped on get enough and stop letting them take it ($$, respect, jobs, reputation) from us.

Jeff A. Taylor

March 22nd, 2013
8:02 am

Couple things:

1 – Bus service currently extends for Cobb HS kids to a few hundred feet of school. That is a mad luxury.

2 – If a teen cannot handle an online course, they cannot handle the 21st c. workplace. The tech is there, has been for 10 yrs. You can take AP classes online. And should.

3 – All non-educational functions should be outsourced. Admin resists because it reduces headcount and thus their perception of power and prestige.

catlady

March 22nd, 2013
8:02 am

Our teachers have been furloughed 24 days of the last 3 years. Our janitors have been outsourced, and now have no sick days and no benefits (but the company is doing quite well). The local supplement, already small, has been cut in half. We have more kids in each classroom.

But it is hard to take the state’s handwringing seriously when you look at the tax credits provided by the legislature, or the friends and family program our governor has instituted by creating additional, well-paid state positions. Let’s face it, there seems to be money for the fat cats, but not the children of this state (especially “those people’s” children).

Mountain Man

March 22nd, 2013
8:03 am

“But when it comes to education, those same people are strangely silent…willing to throw good money after bad!”

The problem (in low-performing schools) is that they don’t want to address the REAL problems (takes too much ADMINISTATOR jueves). So they just try to throw money at the problem (SUCCESS FOR ALL) and then is STILL fails.

In high-performing systems, the issue is that you have to be willing to PAY FOR what you are getting. That is also the problem with the entire country today – we want SS and Medicare and Medicare Part D, and Medicaid, and wars, and a big military, but we also want our taxes cut to almost nothing. No one wants to be responsible and pay for what you get.

Rafe Hollister

March 22nd, 2013
8:06 am

They will survive and learn that education involves more than just spending ever more money. We have tried spending more and more money for decades and education proficiency has continued to decline. Maybe less money will force them to concentrate on the 3R’s and drop some of the frills. My experience with two Cobb graduates was that the 12th grade was a joke and could be eliminated. Both had enough units to graduate after 11, but refused to skip 12th grade and go onto college as I suggested. They didn’t want to miss our on the parties and socializing.

A Realist

March 22nd, 2013
8:08 am

Well-stated Mountain Man! You hit the nail on the head…..One question for Cobb Co school board…why wasn’t this information released before Tuesday’s SPLOsT vote??

Dunwoodian

March 22nd, 2013
8:16 am

Means test the Senior School Tax Exemption, or raise it to 67.

Before anyone talks about how they have “paid into the system for 30 years…..”, realize the social construct (oops I said the word “social”) relies on the older generation paying for the younger generation’s education.

Similar but inverse to the these younger generation’s responsibility to pay for your Medicare and Social (oops I said it again, but you like it this time) Security. Before you scream about how you paid into this system already here are some facts:

Social Security pay in vs. payout for a couple of average wage earners retiring at 65 in 2010 is about a wash, if you consider the present value and supposed compounding of your lifetime contributions.

Medicare is the real prize though, this same couple pays in 122,000 and receives 387,000 in benefits.

Please don’t scream about inept politicians who never held the Medicare and SS “trust fund” tight, you never voted them out of office even though you had many chances to do so. About four dollars per senior is spent by the government vs. one dollar for every child. Enjoy your time in Florida!

Astropig

March 22nd, 2013
8:24 am

“the average salary of $75,000 for the district’s traditional classroom teachers. ”

I think I see why a lot of posters are opposed to online learning.

ABC

March 22nd, 2013
8:26 am

Realist:SPLOST funds cannot be used for anything other than the capital projects that have been approved and published. They cannot use that for general funding per the law.

Truth in Moderation

March 22nd, 2013
8:26 am

“When they force public schools to take such drastic cuts, it’s not good for anyone.”

This is GREAT NEWS for home schoolers. They are forcing public schools to live within their means, instead of continually financing the schools with DEFICIT SPENDING. They have wasted taxpayer money for YEARS. HOME SCHOOLERS HAVE PROVED IT! They have outstanding results for a FRACTION of the cost. Yes, even with SPECIAL ED kids. We don’t put up with the PC GARBAGE curriculum, and our k-5 kids can READ, WRITE in cursive, and SPELL. There are many quality NON-PUBLIC SCHOOL curriculum available for home schoolers. Home schoolers don’t have problems with lack of self-discipline. Mom is there to keep them on track!

The U.S. Atty. General is rattling his saber at home schoolers. He has publicly stated that he thinks home schooling is unconstitutional. PUBLIC SCHOOLERS had better think twice before shutting us down. OVERNIGHT, Georgia would have 50,000+ NEW public students to accommodate! Right now WE PAY OUR OWN WAY, AND YOURS.

Bob

March 22nd, 2013
8:27 am

Mountainman, your solution to a shortage of funds is to bring in less ?

DeborahinAthens

March 22nd, 2013
8:27 am

I don’ t follow what goes on in Cobb, but just last week wasn’t someone crowing about being the only school system in the country that was debt free??? Now they are telling everyone they’re in dire straits?? I’m confused. If there were not so many backward Tea Party nuts in the county they would raise the property tax rates to compensate for the lower assessments caused by the recession. Home values are slowly coming back up, but jerking the kids around with these asinine band aids is ludicrous.

Concerned in Cobb

March 22nd, 2013
8:28 am

At some point people need to wake up and accept the facts that Republicans in this state want to gut public education. It’s the simple conservative think tank strategy of “Starve the beast”. IF YOU THINK YOUR PROPERTY VALUES ARE DOWN NOW, WAIT UNTIL THE THINK TANKS HAVE THIER WAY.

Maureen Downey

March 22nd, 2013
8:28 am

@Rafe, Several research reports have suggested that high school could be three years. I have talked to my twins — now in 8th grade — about the option of finishing high school in three years or three-and-a-half. Saw from my older two that there was a lot of dead time.
As public policy, we could save quite a bit by shortening high school. But the problem is that we have enshrined senior year and kids don’t want to give it up. However, for those kids who are ready to leave high school behind, we ought to offer a three-year track, which should be all the more possible now with online courses.
Maureen

Clutch Cargo

March 22nd, 2013
8:29 am

@ Dunwoodian

Means test= Turbocharged class warfare. I don’t think that there should be ANY senior exemption.But to only permit it for the undisciplined, profligate and lazy would be the worst public policy imaginable.

JW

March 22nd, 2013
8:31 am

Here’s a thought, ask the district admins to take a pay cut.

Maureen Downey

March 22nd, 2013
8:34 am

@JW, Not sure cuts in pay for administrators are going to produce $86 million in savings. There is likely no way a cut that deep isn’t going to penetrate the classroom.
Maureen

jwes

March 22nd, 2013
8:35 am

A lot of Cobb’s problems could be solved if we did away with the ridiculous tax exemptions for our residents who are over 62. It was a nice luxury in flush times, but now it’s time to spread the burden.

Maximus Desimus Aurelius

March 22nd, 2013
8:37 am

Just a reminder to all, as I stated above, the US spends more per pupil than most every other developed country…and yet we perform far lower!!!

So it’s a spending problem, right? (…sarcasm…$

Middle Teach

March 22nd, 2013
8:37 am

I am a Middle School Connections teacher and a parent of children who graduated from a Cobb High School. I am glad my children have completed their public education. Not becuase of the quality of teaching but because of the beligerent lack of funding for public education. I ask, when are parents going to be upset/disgusted with the way things are headed in public education? Most teachers I work with are dedicated and hard working. However, there is a point at which our effectiveness is reduced due to our class sizes.Intercations with students take a certain amount of time. A large class requires more interactions/interventions by the teacher. The scale simply reduces the effectiveness of the teacher. We need to rethink how we pay for public education or you, the parents are going to get what you paid for. Not bad teachers ort lazy teachers. Teachers who cannot get to every child to give them help when they need it most.

jwes

March 22nd, 2013
8:38 am

BTW, ask Gwinnett county how much of our tax money they will be receiving this year. Maybe it’s time to reexamine how our state distributes its education tax dollars. It’s my understanding that the state hasn’t fully funded Cobb for several years….

Jan

March 22nd, 2013
8:41 am

“where the average salary is $75,000″ please tell me where so I can transfer there to teach!
I am so glad my last child graduated Cobb County 10 years ago!!

Astropig

March 22nd, 2013
8:44 am

” We need to rethink how we pay for public education or you, the parents are going to get what you paid for. Not bad teachers ort lazy teachers. Teachers who cannot get to every child to give them help when they need it most.”

Okay, how? How do parents pay more when their real incomes have barely budged in the last 15-20 years. (Now, I know that a LOT of parents can afford the latest phone toy or SUV fad.I get that.But the statistics are irrefutable) What magic pocket do WE reach into to send mo’ money to every entity in our lives demanding more,more more? Higher insurance,more expensive petroleum,medical care that causes bankruptcy…The list goes on and on. I’m not trying to put you on the spot here,but where do the extra resources come from ?

southern opinion

March 22nd, 2013
8:48 am

At least it isn’t Dekalb County this time; however, when they had the amount of deficit it was headline news for weeks. Someone posted that Cobb County didn’t misuse theirs whereas Dekalb County Schools did. How do you know that?

Just Me

March 22nd, 2013
8:51 am

Wow. We just moved from cobb county to the Wellington area in Florida.Palm Beach county allegedly has the best schools in the state. I’m homeshooling due to the midyear move. We did not see this coming. I’d been thinking about homeschooling while in GA before we left. The move forced the issue. I definitely see that had we stayed, I would have been doing it next school year.
As for home sales. We sold our house in 10 days.

Brasstown

March 22nd, 2013
8:54 am

Lots of comments this morning from folks who don’t know the basics of public school funding. There are lots of smart people who have tried to squeeze out more from their schools budgets before you offered your home-grown wisdom to solve this issue. You need to read more and comment less. Maybe turn off the talk radio so you won’t continually repeat what you hear there. Despite what you think, school boards and administrations have a mix of conservative and liberal representation. The problem schools are facing is a lack of adequate funding caused by some of lowest taxation in the country. That’s it. Your ideas to fix the problem are embarrassing.

concernedmom30329

March 22nd, 2013
8:55 am

Because AJC did some comparison on costs through the years. Legal fees is one big area where DK far exceeds other systems. Central office costs are another.

Cobb just announced its deficit, so it is just hitting the news. This is budget season so all the systems should begin working in the next few weeks.

Wonder how big DCSS deficit will be?