Predictions are in from the U.S. Department of Education, and it's likely that Newton County may be one of the projected 83 percent of American public schools that does not meet Adequate Yearly Progress this year, something that could cost the system $350,000.
"We did not make it last year and if we didn't make it this year, then by necessity, under Federal Title I budgets, the formula for us would have us dedicating $350,000 to professional development in the coming year," said Superintendent Gary Mathews.
The federal government mandates that that money be used not for new teachers or to pay salaries, but on things like training for the current employees of the Newton County School System. Mathews said that he was hoping the system would meet AYP this year, but given last year's results and how things are going currently, along with the ever-rising standards of No Child Left Behind, it was unlikely.
No Child Left Behind is set up in three parts - test participation, academic achievement and a second indicator. The goal is for the number of students passing to rise each year with the end objective of a 100 percent passing rate for all students by 2014.
"The number must be greater than ever this year," explained Mathews. "And all subgroups have to get there."
Mathews said given the trajectory the county is on, it is likely that only five of the county's 23 schools would meet AYP this year.
"We are not alone," he said. "Under the current No Child Left Behind, 83 percent of American schools will not meet it... I want to point that out because our community has to be alert."
According to Mathews, not only do we need to work on our schools, but we need to realize as well that the law is "a little antiquated and unrealistic."
One of the biggest complaints in the past has been that typically a failing subgroup in Newton County is students with disabilities, which means if one subgroup at a school fails, the entire school fails AYP. However, students with disabilities are expected to test on the same level as students without disabilities, an unrealistic expectation for many.
Mathews said there is currently much discussion "from the President on down" suggesting that Congress revamp the No Child Left Behind laws and some lawmakers feel that before the end of the 2011 calendar year, it was likely that would happen. However, that will do nothing to help Newton County this year.
"Federal monies come with federal stipulations," said Mathews.
The board is also looking the possibility of losing $1.5 million in the 2011-12 school year to cover increased expenses.
The school system received approximately $798,000 in federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for special education maintenance last year with the stipulation that they could continue to receive that funding if special education students met certain academic benchmarks, which they did not. The school system - along with several others across the state - were told by the Georgia Department of Education were told to accept that money because the issue with not meeting benchmarks should resolved. However that has not been the case as of yet, and there is a real possibility that Newton County may have to pay that money back.
Also, the system was notified this week that there would be an increase in classified employee insurance, making the total roughly $911,000 this year because of actions recently taken by the General Assembly to cover a deficit. Of that number, over $719,000 would have to come from the system's general fund (food services will be able to cover its $192,000 share). This would take the ending fund balance for the 2011-12 school year from $7.4 million to $5.9 million.
Although that seems like a good chunk of money, if nothing changes budget-wise (meaning no better nor worse), the system is still looking at a negative $5 million by 2013-14, and school systems cannot operate in a negative fund balance.
Mathews told board members that they could look at making more cuts to the coming school year's budget, on top of the roughly $9 million they have already made, or they could wait. The board did not make any decisions at their meeting and elected to wait until figures came in from the state - which Mathews expected to have in roughly two weeks.
The board is set to approve a tentative budget in May and a final budget in June. Teacher contracts must be issued by May 15.