Alcovy High School’s auditorium was near capacity with more than 30 people signed up to speak in front of the Newton County Board of Education about proposed budget cuts for Fiscal Year 2011 that, if approved, will cut several jobs from the county as well as eliminate the middle school athletics program for Newton County students next year.
Superintendent Dr. Steve Whatley spoke first, addressing the audience in an effort to explain the reason for the proposed cuts. He told parents and concerned citizens about the mammoth cuts the board has been facing, not just this year but for the last several years, including and explanation of the Quality Basic Education Act and that fact that Newton County hasn’t seen money from that program in more than seven years, when the school system has earned roughly $21 million in local tax money during that time.
"The operation of the school district as far as funding is concerned is a partnership between the state and the county," he explained. "...The state has not met it’s responsibility in funding public education according to its own formula."According to Whatley, property taxes throughout the county have decreased, leaving the system with a 10-15 percent drop in funding from the county and roughly $6 million less next year if nothing changes.
He also explained that although rumors have run rampant of a $10 million surplus in the system’s budget, right now they are looking at a zero balance in the bank as of June 30, 2011. An ending fund balance is needed to pay salaries during the months that tax collections locally have not come in, among other things.
"These people are not numbers," he said of the staff that are being cut. "They are people that we know, that we have worked with. They are our colleagues and in some cases they are the primary breadwinners of their families. And that hurts. We understand that, but we have a financial responsibility to this school system and we are looking for suggestions," Whatley continued.
Parents expressed concerns over everything from the cuts in special education and paraprofessionals, to the loss of middle school sports, with the majority of speakers touching on middle school sports, including a few middle school athletes.
"I humbly request that the board of education members reconsider cutting in middle school athletics," said Cousins Middle School seventh-grader Taylor Jones. "Sports helped me become someone in school. If you take that away you take away a part of me," she said as the auditorium exploded with applause.
Maggie Berry, a seventh grade student at Indian Creek Middle School, said that while the board might think of eliminating middle school athletics as business, to her and other middle school athletes it was much more.
"When you take the sports away you’ll take away my school pride as well," said Berry, who was dressed in her middle school cheerleading uniform.
"Would you have just let this pass without a fight when you were in middle school." asked Cousins sixth-grader Jordan Bell. "Please remember that there is more to look at than just money."
"I’m doing what I’m doing because of middle school sports," said Rick Hurst, a coach at Eastside High School. "If they don’t have a positive influence they’re going to find something to fill their time."
Debbie Harper, a paraprofessional at Palmer Stone Elementary School said she knew cuts were unavoidable, but urged the board not to make those cuts at the expense of the county’s students.
The parent of a special needs child, Michael Del Vacchio, told the board with tears in his eyes, of his child who after much work with teachers was now an honor student.
"I will do my part," he said. "I will do what I can to help my child in school, to help all children in school."