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Posted: December 30, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Year in Review: Education

By Brittany Thomas/

The Newton County School System faced a tough year in 2009. From issues with transportation to teacher furloughs and budget cuts, the NCSS had to tighten their purse strings and may very well have to continue to do so into the New Year. One bright spot was the recent notification that the system had received grant money for the career academy which should get under way in 2010.

Furloughs

Just two weeks before the start of the 2009-2010 school year, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue announced that school systems were to receive a 3 percent cut to their budget and mandated staff furloughs —leaving Newton County’s school board searching for ways to make these things happen before the original start of the year for elementary school teachers.

The governor announced to school superintendents at 3 p.m. Tuesday that the cuts would have to be made in an effort to fill a $900 million gap in the state’s budget. The school systems got off easy with just a 3 percent cut, while other state agencies were set to receive 5 percent cuts in their budgets.

In September the board faced with more reductions to their revenue, the Newton County Board of Education was forced to make more cuts to its budget in an effort to make up for approximately $6,300,000 in expected revenue that the system will not receive.

The loss of revenue comes from both the state (more than $4,500,000) and locally (approximately $1,500,000), and Superintendent Dr. Steve Whatley was quick to point out there may be more reductions in revenue forthcoming.

When the Fiscal Year 2010 budget was approved by the board in June it was with the assumption that the Newton County School System would receive $51,247,395 in local revenues and $94,960,832 in state revenues with expenditures at $149,369,006. There were also reductions in employees and in days worked for some employees and restrictions on spending. The ending fund balance was projected to be around 7 percent.

Since that time however, the board was informed of several reductions in funds. The Quality Basic Education (QBE) funds were reduced by 3 percent, teachers and staff were required to take a three-day furlough, the health insurance rate has been decreased and transportation revenues are still being finalized for state reduction. Additionally, local revenue was lowered by approximately $1,500,000 bringing the total loss in excess of $6,300,000 for the FY10.

"If no adjustments were made in expenditures then an ending fund balance June 30, 2010 would be less than 3 percent or approximately $4,400,000," reads the superintendents recommendation to the board. "The state revenue situation remains unclear with further reductions in the system’s state earnings a distinct possibility."

Theme Schools

In 2007 The BOE approved two theme schools-one for kindergarten to fifth grades and the other for sixth to eighth grades-which would operate with an emphasis on parental involvement. The sites for the theme schools were Fairview Elementary and Clements Middle Schools.

The elementary school will pilot programs that integrate research-centered/hands-on projects and critical thinking skills, especially in math and science, and increased reading assignments at home and during the summer break.

In addition to the requirements at the elementary level, the middle school also will offer a comprehensive, interdisciplinary educational program. Both schools will operate with an emphasis on parental involvement.

The schools opened this year and though there have been bumps in the road, the Newton County Board of Education has said on multiple occasions that they feel this initial year is a learning opportunity for all involved.

Transportation Confrontation

In August, several parents who had students in the theme schools converged on the NCSS BOE meeting to voice concerns about the lack of transportation available to their children.

"Initially parents were told that transportation would be provided in the Liberty (formerly Clements school) zone," said NCSS Superintendent Dr. Steve Whatley. "All others were told transportation would be provided only from pickup points. On March 18 it was announced that transportation would be provided on a limited basis to and from designated stops throughout the district. It was changed effective Monday, August 17. The afternoon change was to establish parent pickup points only within the Live Oak/Liberty zones."

All other students who attended the theme schools would have to meet at centralized pick-up and drop-off points or have transportation to and from school each day. After school care is available — though it is full at this point — at both theme schools, and the NCSS is working on hiring more staff so that the program can be expanded.

Career Academy

The Newton County School System and DeKalb Technical College were awarded $3 million in state grant funds from the Technical College System of Georgia for the school district’s proposed Newton College and Career Academy in the beginning of December.

The funds provided to the NCSS will be matched with local funding commitments which will go toward the career academy, an initiative spearheaded by Lt. Governor Casey Cagle in 2007.

"Today we are one step closer to providing access to a Career Academy to every student in Georgia," said Cagle in a press release. "During these tough economic times, it is now more important than ever before to give our students the promise of a path to a successful career. I look forward to the success that will come from the Newton College and Career Academy as more students are prepared for a 21st century workforce.

"We are extremely excited about the possibilities for support of the learning of our students, which this grant provides for high school career/technical education," said Dr. Steve Whatley, Newton County School Superintendent "The cooperation of the collegiate, business, governmental and private entities working together to make this a reality is a positive step taken for the educational and economic development for this community. My thanks are extended to Mr. James Woodard, Newton County School System Director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, and Dr. Kathy Garber, NCSS Grants Coordinator, for their extensive work on the grant."

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