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Board Business Briefs: Superintendent Shares Key Priorities, Budget for Next School Year

Board Business Briefs: Superintendent Shares Key Priorities, Budget for Next School Year

The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday heard a report from Superintendent of Schools Mary Elizabeth Davis on her key priorities and recommended balanced budget for next school year, with a focus on elevating the excellence of academics and achievement for all students and improving employee compensation to retain the best educators possible.

During their strategic work session, Dr. Davis reviewed her Entry Plan Summative Analysis and 2024-25 Key Priorities Report, which is posted online here, and her recommended budget, which calls for no millage rate tax increase.  A video of her presentation is online here.

The report is based on Dr. Davis’s entry plan, which outlined a series of activities through which she listened to the community in small group meetings and via a community survey, and she reviewed and analyzed financial, operational and student performance reports.  Her entry plan, as well as monthly status reports, are posted online here.

Over the past two months, she has met more than 2,000 stakeholders, including students, families, CCSD employees and business and community partners, and received more than 4,500 meeting feedback comments and more than 3,000 survey responses.

“I have seen a depth of expert skill and breadth of personal effort that is unparalleled in public education today.  Coupled with the extraordinary team of professionals at every level, students in CCSD are impressive.  I have met so many young people who remind me of why we can have so much confidence in our future as a community, a state and a nation,” Dr. Davis said. “I have also interacted with so many families who are proud of their child’s school and see evidence of a quality education, positive relationships and opportunities to be involved. This tradition of excellence is nestled in a beautiful community that champions public education and is eager to see sustained success for generations to come.

“Woven through the fabric of this excellent school district, I also discovered insights and perspectives that pave the path for us to get even better,” she continued.  “There is a pervasive readiness from classroom to classroom, school to school and throughout every corner of the county that CCSD be the highest performing district in the state of Georgia where students thrive, families are connected and the community remains confident and proud.”

Four Key Priorities informed by this feedback will drive CCSD’s work as an organization for the next 18 months to two years, with regular progress reports to the community, followed by the future development of a long-range strategic plan. 

These Key Priorities are:
•    Elevate the Excellence in academics and achievement for all students.
•    Elevate the Excellence in effective School Board-Superintendent Governance.
•    Elevate the Excellence in the district’s coordination and alignment of goals, systems and processes.
•    Elevate the Excellence by embracing a pervasive high-quality school environment defined by high standards, effective supports and consistent practices.

For each Key Priority, Dr. Davis has set specific Action Steps, which are detailed within the report.  For each Action Step, underlying activities will be followed to ensure measurable success.  During her presentation, she reviewed the Action Steps and shared several examples of activities.

The Key Priority for “Elevate the Excellence in academics and achievement for all students” includes the most Action Steps with seven, following a common theme of narrowing the focus for educators’ work to ensure student mastery of core academics is at the forefront.  Some of the many activities in this arena will include creating a cohesive literacy instruction model; sunsetting RCD (Rigorous Course Design) and EDT (English Design Team) lesson plans, ineffective instructional resources and redundant assessment tools; investing in instructional support for Special Education; and defining commitments to improve the communication of student learning to parents.

The three other Key Priorities each include four Action Steps.  

Examples of some of the activities for “Elevate the Excellence by embracing a pervasive high-quality school environment defined by high standards, effective supports and consistent practices” include developing and implementing standards with consistency at schools for suitable dress and school appropriate attire for students; implementing cell phone procedures for students to maximize instructional time and student participation; and thoroughly reviewing current facilities and maintenance processes. 

Examples of some of the activities for “Elevate the Excellence in the district’s coordination and alignment of goals, systems and processes” include conducting a competitive compensation assessment, protecting teacher planning time, reorganizing the district office to ensure resources are as close to the classroom as possible and establishing performance indicators to focus central office divisions’ work on amplifying the effectiveness of schools. 

Examples of some of the activities for “Elevate the Excellence in effective School Board-Superintendent Governance” include developing School Board Norms and Protocols and holding monthly work sessions in conjunction with regular board meetings to promote meaningful discussion and public transparency. 

“Thank you for this thorough analysis of everything you’ve been doing,” Board Chair Kyla Cromer said following the presentation.  “It sounds like you have a great plan for moving forward.”

Improving employee compensation so that CCSD students and families benefit from the best professionals in public education is the focus for the Superintendent’s recommended budget, which has been balanced without the need for a millage rate increase despite the loss of $17 million in American Rescue Plan federal funding.

During their strategic work session, Dr. Davis presented the School Board with her recommended total budget of $923 million, which encompasses new school construction (including the replacement Cherokee High School) and debt service.  The general fund (day-to-day operations) budget is $597 million.  The full budget is posted online here, and Financial Facts, a report on the budget written for the community to better understand its details, is posted online here.

The School Board tabled the budget for a 30-day public review and will hold three public hearings for input, with formal adoption planned at its June 20 meeting.

As CCSD strives to be a competitive employer in the region attracting and retaining excellent talent, the budget includes state-approved raises and an extension of those raises to eligible employees, as well as longevity step salary increases for eligible employees.

A $2,500 increase, plus honoring the step associated with years of experience, for all teachers and certified staff totals $17.3 million in the general budget.  A 4.1% salary increase for all classified staff (including bus drivers, School Nutrition employees, front office staff, etc.) totals $2.5 million in the general budget.

The recommended budget also calls for:

• A realigned, position-neutral organizational chart;
• American Rescue Plan (ARP) funded district positions will be ingested into this chart;
• 118 school-based, kindergarten paraprofessionals and four police officers, currently funded by ARP, will be budgeted for from the general fund.  All other school-based ARP positions will be discontinued after the end of this school year; and,
• 215 school-based custodian positions have been added into the organization and budgeted from the general fund.

In addition to the loss of ARP federal funding for next school year, CCSD also faces new expenditure strains due to increasing costs for employee benefits.

The Governor’s budget increased CCSD’s contribution as an employer to the State Health Benefit Plan (for all 5,400 CCSD employees who participate) totaling an increase for CCSD of $2.8 million, as well as CCSD’s contribution as an employer to the Teacher Retirement System by 4% (for all 3,000 certified CCSD employees) totaling an increase for CCSD of $2.2 million.

A-2 Yes I Can recognition at School Board meeting

The School Board on Thursday also:

•    Congratulated the graduating Class of 2024 and thanked CCSD teachers and staff;
•    Heard a report on the transition to in-house CCSD custodial services including the 99% fill rate for all positions and positive reports from Principals, teachers and support staff;
•    Recognized Cherokee HS senior Reid Glover as recipient of the Award of Excellence Presented by the Georgia Department of Education.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized CCSD’s 2024 Yes I Can Award recipients.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized CCSD’s 2024 Georgia Scholars.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized CCSD’s Exemplary English for Speakers of Other Languages Teacher of the Year Coury Frush and Exemplary English Learner Student of the Year Gio Fuin.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized Creekview HS students Cade Smith and Nate Hancock as Georgia Technology Student Association Board officers.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized Creekview HS senior Olivia Canada as a Future Business Leaders of America State Champion.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized CCSD students earning top honors at Tome Student Literacy Society Statewide Competition.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized CCSD’s 2024 Young Georgia Authors Writing Competition Region Winners.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized 2024 CCSD Elementary School Academic Bowl winners.  Learn more here; 
•    Recognized CCSD’s Georgia High School Association State and Regional Champions.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized Sequoyah HS senior Hunter Smith as recipient of the 2024 Judy Johnson Memorial Scholarship.  Learn more here; 
•    Recognized Cherokee HS senior J. Cuomo as recipient of 2024 Pine Bluff Landfill/ WM Scholarship.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized the 2023-24 Student Advisor to School Board and Student Delegates for service and commitment to CCSD.  Learn more here;
•    Approved monthly financial reports;
•    Approved a Fiscal Year 2024 budget amendment;
•    Approved out of state and overnight student field trips;
•    Approved out of state staff travel; 
•    Approved the renewal of the Strategic Waivers School System (SWSS) Resolution and Contract with State Board of Education;
•    Approved the monthly capital outlay project report;
•    Approved a resolution to begin the process of developing a new Five-Year Local Facilities Plan;
•    Approved easements for Knox ES STEM Academy and the Ralph Bunche Center;
•    Approved the monthly personnel report; 
•    Announced the closing of the sale of the former Buffington Elementary School site to the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners for $1.2 million; and,
•    Heard a legislative update report.

More photos from the meeting are posted online here.