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FCS Community Update for April 16, 2021

FCS Community Update

 

April 15 Post-Meeting Update

The Fulton County School Board met on Thursday, April 15, for its regularly scheduled Work Session at the North Learning Center. Following are highlights of the some of the more highly-discussed topics, with the full agenda available online.

Superintendent’s Budget Recommendation
Following the budget parameters previously approved by the Board of Education, the FY 2022 Superintendent’s Proposed Budget for the 2021-2022 school year was presented by Chief Financial Officer Marvin Dereef.  The April presentation gives school board members and the public an opportunity to review the district’s proposed funding priorities for the upcoming school year well in advance of the Board’s expected final approval in June.  This review is Budget Markup #2, as planned and previously shared in budget updates.

Seventy-nine percent of the $1.088 billion general fund budget is allocated directly to schools, with 65% devoted to instruction and the remaining 35% budgeted for pupil transportation, maintenance and operations, and other functions. The proposed budget also recommends keeping the millage rate the same for the third consecutive year, maintaining the school board’s commitment to low property taxes.  At 17.796, the combined millage rate continues to be the lowest in the metro Atlanta area.

The proposed budget focuses instructional support, particularly employee compensation, to ensure that schools are staffed with the most qualified teachers and support personnel. A 2% raise is proposed for all employees in the district, who would also receive a step increase as they transition to the new budget year. The budget puts focus on appropriately aligning funding to personnel and programs. The Board also authorized a one-time payment of $1,000 for full-time staffers and $500 for part-time employees to be paid on April 30.  This retention incentive is paid primarily by state funding with a local supplement to ensure all staff are covered.  An additional proposal includes a one-time hiring and retention incentive to special education paraprofessionals.

Of special note, FCS is receiving more than $168 million dollars from the latest round of federal funding in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to help schools recover from COVID-19.  Combined with the CARES I ($18 million), CARES II ($75 million), and smaller related CARES grants, this is the largest grant funding source for FCS. Click here for more information on how the district plans to disburse this federal funding.

Concluding the presentation, Mr. Dereef indicated the district is well positioned for long-term financial stability.  The proposed budget has no bond debt and includes over two-months of operating reserve that allows the district to be prepared for unforeseen situations.

The board will hold public hearings on the proposed budget on May 4 and May 13. A vote to adopt the budget, including the compensation plan, is scheduled for June 8.

The proposed budget is available for all stakeholders on our website, located at fultonschools.org.

Capital Budget Update
In 2022, the district will begin the final year of its current capital program (Capital Plan 2022) funded by the one-penny education sales tax, SPLOST. The five-year program, which started its cycle in 2017, provides a schedule and work plan for the improvements and upgrades needed to support the school system’s facilities, technology, transportation, furniture and safety needs.

As a part of the budget process, FCS staff annually reviews the capital program, including the execution schedule, forecasted expenditures, projected revenue, budgets and cash flows. Interim Chief Operations Officer Louis Mosley began the presentation by noting that challenges were created by significant construction cost escalation, a tight labor market, increased technology and material costs, and other impacts caused by COVID-19. However, the school board’s strong fiscal oversight resulted in achievements and progress, and the district is well positioned to deliver on the remaining projects.

Tim Dunn, executive director of Program Management, outlined several successful initiatives that have been accomplished during Capital Plan 2022. Atlas, an enterprise-wide solution that will manage the day-to-day business operations of the district, continues its path toward full integration in January 2022. He also highlighted the successful completion of the FCS Hub, an effort to migrate all school and district websites to a new Blackboard platform as well as introduce a new mass messaging system. The district’s new student information system, FCS Infinite Campus, is in its final phase of rollout, and a new learning management system, FCS Canvas, will be launched this fall.

Chief Financial Officer Marvin Dereef noted that in June 2020, the capital budgets related to construction, transportation, and furniture/equipment were decreased and moved to reserve. This was done as a risk mitigation since SPLOST sales tax collections were projected to decrease due to the pandemic. SPLOST revenue collections, however, are remaining strong and the updated capital budget restores $111 million to the construction budget, $7 million to the transportation budget, and $2.5 million to the furniture/equipment budget.

Dereef shared that the capital program also plans for retirement of long-term debt, and in January 2021, the final outstanding general obligation bond backed by the FCS property tax digest was paid in full. There is no short-term borrowing to date, and none is anticipated for the remainder of the five-year capital program.

The updated five-year revenue projections, cash flows, schedules, and project budgets for capital improvements, information technology, debt service, transportation, safety and security, and property control can be found in the Capital Budget updated report.

Additional Notice from the Superintendent’s Report
Dr. Looney notified the Board and community that he has postponed the adoption review of new Reading/English/Language Arts textbooks being considered for grades kindergarten through second grade.  Rather than moving forward with new textbook adoption at this time, the pause will enable the system to comprehensively train teachers and staff on the Science of Reading.  With an expanded level of knowledge and expertise, the district will pick up the textbook adoption process in 2021-2022, and if approved, the new materials would go into effect with the 2022-2023 school year.

Following Governor Kemp’s executive order rolling back COVID-19 restrictions, Dr. Looney also informed the Board that he is in the process of working with the staff to review new COVID guidance protocols.

New FAVE Principal Named
The Board approved Dr. Marcus Vu as the new leader of the Fulton Academy of Virtual Excellence (FAVE). With years of experience as the coordinator of the Fulton Virtual Academy and the Florida Virtual School, Dr. Vu has worked both as an online teacher and subject matter expert, helping the curriculum team maintain existing courses and developing courses for credit recovery and critical thinking. The Board also approved the placement of two assistant principals. Remaining teacher and staff positions are being filled and will be announced in May.

The need for an online school was sparked after the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that many students learn successfully through remote learning due to its “anywhere/anytime” approach. Additionally, many families indicated they wanted a permanent option for continuing their children’s education with this instructional model. Students will begin classes at FAVE in August 2021, and in its inaugural year, approximately 1,000 students in grades 3-11 will be enrolled.

Facility Plan Community Meetings
Fulton County Schools is hosting four (4) community engagements in late April to share information on the Facility Plan under development and to collect feedback. Due to the pandemic and safety concerns, the meetings have a blended approach that allows employees, parents and other key community groups to participate at their comfort level, either in-person or completely online. Meeting dates and times can be viewed on the Facility Plan website  as well as the State of School Facilities report presented at the School Board’s March 9 work session and an overview video. A special Facility Plan survey will go live the week of April 26 to collect input on planning priorities and it will be shared at both the in-person and online meetings.