The Barrow County Board of Education on Tuesday approved the Fiscal Year 2021 budget for the school district and also granted more spending authority for the information technology systems department amid supply shortages and increased demand stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
The initial economic fallout from the pandemic and the Georgia General Assembly’s delay in adopting a state budget made the school board a late approving a budget for the new fiscal year, which began July 1. Tuesday’s vote, though, prevented the board from having to adopt another spending resolution for August to keep the district operating.
The total all-funds budget for FY2021 is roughly $201.6 million with a $137.46 million General Fund and was approved unanimously Tuesday night after it drew no comments at a pair of public hearings held last week. The district is set to spend only $243,000 more over the approved FY2020 budget and plans to tap into its projected $30 million General Fund reserves to balance a projected $4.6 million deficit, primarily brought on by a $7 million cut in state funding due to effects of the pandemic.
School officials had recommended drawing from the reserves over the prospect of the district enacting up to 11 teacher furlough days or eliminating planned step increases for teachers in order to make up the deficit.
The district will receive $82.2 million in state funding and anticipates collecting $44.75 million in local property taxes, thanks to a 6.6-percent growth in the county’s tax digest, along with another $3.6 million in vehicle taxes.
The temporary purchasing policy for the ITS department grants the department a spending authority of up to $100,000 to purchase items without board approval if necessary due to product supply scarcity or an urgent need.
John St. Clair, director of technology for the system, said the policy would only be exercised when necessary and would still undergo normal district-level authorization loopholes and require superintendent approval. The department would also still report any expenditures under the policy to the board.
St. Clair cited a pair of recent scenarios where the department had to go through the normal competitive-bid process and, by the time the requests came to the BOE for approval, the items were no longer available from the preferred vendor. After the board recently approved Chromebook purchases, the district is still awaiting their arrival after officials were initially told the laptops would arrive in early July.
“We would still follow the spirit of” the typical purchasing policies and processes,” St. Clair told the board. “I’m keenly aware that even though I’m being given extra flexibility, I’m not being given extra money and will need to make every penny count.”
“We’re not taking the accountability away; we’re just speeding up the process,” board member Bill Ritter added.
St. Clair said the policy should help the district navigate the next 3-6 months and that hopefully there will be more positive developments in the fight against COVID-19 by then.
“I don’t anticipate having to come back before the board again (for another spending authorization),” St. Clair said, “but I can’t promise that.”
In other business during Tuesday’s work session, the board:
•heard that the district has received a supply of 6,700 student masks, 40 thermometers and 25 tubs of Lysol wipes that it ordered as part of an initial $25,000 the board approved for supplies to help prevent the spread of COVID. Jennifer Houston, assistant superintendent for business services, said the district is still awaiting 7,500 pairs of gloves and 1,000 N-95 masks it also ordered. The schools have budgeted to purchase up to another $105,000 in protective equipment throughout the year but have also gotten some help from the state and the community, Houston said. The state department of education has provided the district with several different supplies, including infrared thermometers and 100 face shields; Akins Ford, Zaxby’s and the United Way pitched in a combined 5,000 reusable water bottles; and Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow sent three pallets of supplies for the schools’ nursing clinics.
•reviewed a recommended revised school-lunch policy that, among other things, places more meal-payment accountability with parents and guardians. According to the proposed policy, meal-charging will not be allowed at the high school level. The proposed policy further reads: “A charge notice will be sent home with the elementary or middle school student each time a meal is charged; if a third notice is sent without charges being paid, the principal or social worker will be asked to intervene in the collection of the delinquent payments and assess the need for free or reduced-price meals. If a fifth notice is sent without outstanding charges being paid, the parent/guardian's account will be submitted to the Barrow County School Nutrition office for further collection efforts which may include remanding them to an outside collection agency.
•reviewed a recommendation to purchase 3,620 math workbooks for grades 6-8 in the amount of $44,160, which will be pulled from Title I funds.
•reviewed a recommendation of a one-year purchase of the Edmentum Courseware for online distance learners, grades 6-12, in the amount of $82,219.
•reviewed a recommendation for the purchase of the Lightspeed web filtering solution from a sole-source provider in Mississippi in the amount of $69,900. St. Clair said the product would best fit the district’s needs as it will need to require additional web filtering for district-owned devices that are being used by students at home and aren’t on the district’s network.
•reviewed a recommendation to approve a $939,411 bid by Boswell Oil Company to provide fuel, petroleum, oil and lubrication supplies for the year.