Members of the Newton County Board of Education approved a tentative budget for the 2013-14 school year, but did not vote to eliminate Ombudsman transportation, leaving that decision on the table.
The board unanimously approved the nearly $149.5 million budget for the 2013-14 school year as it was presented, with the notion that board members would make a decision on cutting transportation at Ombudsman before June 25, when the final budget is expected to be approved.
According to the tentative budget, the school system has a beginning fund balance of $15,628,766 and when factoring in state and local revenues, the system has a total available sources balance of $149,493,603.
Expenditures total $139,975,257 — leaving the school system with an ending fund balance of $9,518,346. The tentative budget in its entirety can be found by visiting CovNews.com.
Student transportation to Ombudsman, Newton’s alternative school, is one of the items being considered as a possible cut from the budget; the board also discussed possibly adding full-time nurses at each of the schools.
Michael Barr, director of support services for the NCSS, said the estimated annual operational costs associated with providing transportation for 43 of the 196 students attending the Ombudsman program is $113,731.20.
The other 153 students are transported by other means.
Schools officials said there have been continuous infractions while Ombudsman students have ridden the bus, some of which required law enforcement intervention. And during the meeting, board members were divided on whether transportation to Ombudsman should in fact be cut.
“I think we need to look at those who may not have a mode of transportation that we are going to leave behind,” said BOE member Almon Turner.
He added that this was an important decision, and that more questions need to be answered. Board member Jeff Meadors said that when breaking down the $113,000 cost to transport the 43 students, it costs the school system an estimated $2,628 a year for each of those students to ride Ombudsman buses, which he said is inequitable to the other students.
“I mean, these students have transportation at their disposal from their bus stop to their normal school. They made the choice that their regular school is not where they belong, or at least for some term,” Meadors said. “I think that that’s a lot of money to be putting in an Ombudsman bus.”
BOE member Eddie Johnson said he would not support cutting transportation at Ombudsman.
“I want to encourage all of our board members to attend some of the events at Ombudsman,” he said.
“I attended the graduation this weekend, and the smiles on those kids’ faces at Ombudsman were no less bright than those who finished at our high schools.”
“To sit here and discuss terminating transportation for public school students is an insult and as far as I am concerned, it’s a lack of concern,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to participate in educational assassination. I will not do it. I will go to whatever length possible to get those kids to school, like we do for public transportation as to any other student.”
BOE vice chair Shakila-Henderson Baker said she would like to find a “happy medium,” bringing into account the bus routes Barr provided with a small number of students.
“I understand all of your arguments. I understand that clearly. And Jeff, I understand yours as well, but when I look at it and I see nine routes with two or less students — nine...it’s not even a lot of students, that’s not fiscally savvy, for me,” she said.
NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews told the board that at some point, it must decide what will happen to Ombudsman transportation.
There needs to be either more adult monitors on the bus, or the district needs to “incent’’ parents and students at Ombudsman to find their own transportation, “like some other Georgia school systems,’’ Mathews said.
Barr said if Ombudsman transportation were eliminated, the funds for the Ombudsman bus driver would be used to help with transporting special education students, who are picked up as early as 5:45 a.m., an hour earlier than other students.
Prior to discussing the future of Ombudsman transportation, the board again discussed adding full-time nurses to each of the county schools.
School officials said it would take four more nurses to have one at each school in the system, at a cost of $146,000. Officials previously looked at using the $113,000 from Ombudsman transportation to help fund the four nurses.
Currently, there are six full-time nurses at the elementary schools; five at the middle school level; and three at the high school level. Eight elementary schools have part-time nurses; and several remaining schools share school nurses.
BOE Chair Abigail Coggin has said that at Newton County Theme School at Ficquett, where there isn’t a full-time nurse, faculty members have had to fill the void.
“My fear with this is just being threatened with a lawsuit if something happens. It seems like every other day, I’m getting a message from a parent about a complaint that there’s not a nurse there (NCTS) and that the staff are not able to provide the adequate care,” Coggin said.
School officials gave the board a summary of the daily activities of the system’s school nurses.
According to the report, 62,564 students were seen by a school nurse from August 2012 to April 2013, with an average of 391 students seen per day for an illness. The yearly total of injury visits totaled 16,353 students, with an average of 102 seen per day for injury; and the yearly total of medication doses totaled 34,178, with an average of 493 students seen per day.
Based on the data, school officials recommended only adding one full-time nurse to the theme school, and then exploring the need to add a full-time nurse to all of the schools at a later date.
But, Johnson made a motion to postpone the addition of nurses at this time. However, the motion failed.
The BOE may hold work sessions again to further discuss the tentative budget, in which changes can be made. The final budget is up for adoption at the BOE’s June 25 meeting at 7 p.m.
In addition to approving the tentative budget, the Board of Education also approved superintendent-elect Samantha Fuhrey’s recommendation to post openings for the positions of deputy superintendent of schools; and director of secondary curriculum and instruction and professional development at no additional cost to the budget.
Both positions have been posted to the school system’s website.
Additionally, Lee Peck has been named the director of elementary curriculum and instruction and professional development. Peck currently works as the executive director for school improvement for Newton County Schools.
The position will be dissolved at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, after Fuhrey’s recommendations.