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Posted: May 21, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Tentative budget set, Clements parents speak out

Photo by Brittany Thomas/

High turnout: More than 100 people crowded into the Newton County School System central office Tuesday afternoon to voice concerns over the board's May 11 decision to dissolve Clements Theme School.

The Newton County Board of Education unveiled their tentative budget for the Fiscal Year 2011 Tuesday night, adding back some proposed cuts and raising the millage to 20 mills.
 
The numbers are still preliminary, as the board will hold three more budget work sessions before approving the FY11 budget at the June 15 meeting. The board also has yet to see the amount they will receive from both local and state funding and is working with anticipated figures.
 
The NCSS proposed budget shows an estimated beginning fund balance of $5.8 million, less than $4 million then it was last year, and with raising the mill from 18.21 to 20 mills, although with home values expected to drop up to 14 percent many homeowners in the county will likely pay less this year than they did last year.
 
With an increase in millage they board anticipated they could receive around $44 million in local ad valorem taxes, over $725,000 in other local revenue and approximately $91.1 million from state and federal money. However, with all required expenditures the
NCSS is looking at an ending fund balance of roughly $3.8 million on June 30, 2011 — the lowest it has ever been. 
 
After looking at the numbers and cutting back on several things by several thousand dollars, including employee benefits, credit recovery materials, band uniforms, travel, media supplies and software and computer equipment, board members looked at the cost of bringing back some of the original proposed cuts.
 
The tentative budget was unanimously approved — minus District 1 member Johnny Smith who was at the work session that morning but unable to attend the evening meeting — restoring 80 paraprofessionals at 178 days and six-hours a day, to reinstate the graduation coach positions at the high schools, to increase the 403b annuity to 1 percent from the .5 percent they were proposing and to pay for a portion of middle school athletics, with the rest of the funds needed to operate the programs supplemented by a fee to parents of an amount as yet to be determined. 
 
They also voted to keep $1.2 million built into the budget in case additional furlough days are required during the school year. That amount will pay for approximately three furlough days. 
 
The board will have three public budget meetings prior to finalizing the FY11 budget, on June 8 and 15 at 6 p.m. and on June 9 at 10:30 a.m. 

Dissolving Clements Theme School
Board members also heard from roughly 30 parents, teachers and students from Clements Theme School and dozens more protested the meeting beforehand, a common complaint was a lack of communication with parents, teachers and students, who said they heard about the school being dissolved not from the board but from the newspaper.
 
The board voted May 11 to dissolve Clements and have it revert back to a regular middle school and to add two more grades to Fairview Theme School with only one member, Eddie Johnson, opposing. The reason was due to monetary constraints since Clements was operating with less than 400 students and other middle schools had over 1,200 with a projected 1,600 students headed to Liberty in FY11.
 
“I don’t envy your positions,” said Fairview parent Baxter Bouchillon. “It’s a regrettable thing that has happened … We tried hard and fell short but I’m hopeful well be able to push this thing and grow it in the next years.”
 
Some parents asked for a school within a school, having a theme school housed inside of Clements Middle School that would mirror the Academy of Liberal Arts at Newton High School.
 
“If it can’t happen the first semester, maybe it can happen the second semester,” said parent Karla Daniels. “Please consider it.”
 
The board approved opening two parental involvement theme schools last year and thus far, Fairview has flourished while Clements fell short, some students leaving due to lack of transportation, others because parents did not fulfill the requirements of the contract they signed, some of which included volunteering a number of hours throughout the school year. 
 
“We at Clements were given a lump of coal and told we had 12 months to make it a diamond,” said Vicki Mitchell. “And you gave us eight months.”
 
Parent Jeffrey Wallace asked why they voted to open the school if they didn’t think it would be successful.
 
“Our economy didn’t get bad over the last six to eight months,” he said. 
 
When one teacher thanked board member Dr. C.C. Bates for voting to keep the theme school, Bates interrupted to say that it had not been her vote.
 
“I am a big huge supporter of the theme schools, and it breaks my heart to see this school dissolve,” said Bates, her voice breaking. “But I can’t argue anymore over 300 kids when we’re sitting on 1,200 kids at Liberty because that is too many children for that building. So when we voted, I voted for what I thought was best for this county and that is to equalize the numbers for all middle school children. I know you have worked hours. I have been there volunteering and I see lots of familiar faces and let me say this. It didn’t bring the numbers still.”

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