The Douglas County Board of Education tentatively approved a $252 million Fiscal Year 2021 budget July 20 that funds step raises and avoids job cuts and furlough days for employees.

The budget is down about $10 million, or 4%, from last year’s budget amid the financial strain facing governments, businesses and citizens due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget projects $250.5 million in revenue, meaning the school system will have to use roughly $1.5 million of its $44 million reserve fund.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the budget Aug. 3 where it also plans to adopt the FY2021 budget.

“We are very pleased with this budget,” Douglas County Schools Superintendent Trent North said. “This conservative budget allows us to keep everyone gainfully employed and to continue investing in initiatives already in the works prior to COVID-19.”

The local tax digest, or value of all taxable property in the county, increased by 5.3% or about $4.5 million according to the school system. That number doesn’t include vehicles, which the school system notes should increase the total it receives.

The additional funds will help offset about $17 million in cuts from the state, which saw across the board cuts of 10% when the General Assembly adopted the budget last month.

The school system has been awarded $4.9 million from the federal CARES Act. That money will be used to pay utility costs for the district — an approved expenditure — allowing the funds normally spent on utilities to go toward paying employee salaries, according to the school system.

While no one lost their job, the district notes the proposed budget does reflect a decrease of 38.75 teaching positions and 21 paraprofessional positions, all of which were handled through attrition. The total direct instruction cuts to the budget amount to $5.6 million, and $2.8 million of that is attributable to a reduction by the state in the school system’s contribution rate to the Teacher Retirement System, which will save the district $3.3 million.

The $4.9 million in CARES Act funds allowed the district to remove utility expenses from the general budget and be paid for by the federal funds. That $4.9 million is where the new police department salary and benefit costs are charged, according to a budget document from the school system.

The school system will hold three millage rate hearings in August, Chief Financial Officer Greg Denney said. Denney said the school board plans to lower the maintenance and operations millage rate from the current 19.65 mills to 19.6 mills. However, that rate will be higher than the so-called rollback rate which is the rate that produces the same total revenue on the current year’s digest that last year’s millage rate would have produced had no reassessments occurred.