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 are set to receive 5 percent cuts in their budgets.
Educators with the NCSS were originally set to begin their school year today in elementary grades and Monday in secondary grades. One of the things that was changed in a special called meeting of the board Thursday morning to address the cuts made by Perdue, will see elementary and secondary educators reporting to school on July 28.
NCSS Superintendent Steve Whatley said the county had not received an official statement from the Office of Planning and Budget or from the Georgia Department of Education as to the exact amount of money cut from the system would be. It is estimated that the cuts may equal more than $2 million in addition to the cuts the system already experienced for the Fiscal Year 2010.
"Our central administration is working on possible reductions that can address a portion of the loss of state revenue," said Whatley. "We’ve already eliminated positions in this year’s budget as we begin the year. We’ve transferred some services to payment under ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), we’ve restricted spending to essentials, but this further cut will mean that we will have to look again more closely at the budget in all areas of operation to determine further possible cuts and cost savings."
The second issue the board had to contend with was the mandatory unpaid furlough days for employees that work 190 days or more. The NCSS is the largest employer in the county, and many of those positions will be directly affected by the three unpaid days.
"This request means that we will lose the funds that we normally pay those staff members — they will lose those funds," said Verdaillia Turner, President of the Georgia Federation of Teachers.
"At a time when Georgia’s schools are performing better on state-wide and federal tests, we question the governor’s wisdom in his decision to furlough teachers. The millions of dollars allocated for programs such as the Go Fishing Project and the hundreds of millions of dollars afforded corporations in tax breaks would be better spent on Georgia’s future, our children."Another concern of the system was how to allow
teachers to come in for pre-planning before the beginning of school, and to keep the mandatory 10 days of teacher planning throughout the year, while cutting three days prior to the December 31, 2009, deadline given by the state. The solution was to revise the 2009-2010 school calendars without interfering with already approved student holidays.
October 2 was originally planned as a teacher workday with no school for students. This has changed. Students will report to school on that date. Instead, they will get a longer fall break, getting October 9-16 off from school, allowing teachers to take October 9, 12 and 13 as furlough days while preserving fall break. Teachers can work those days if they choose, but they will be unpaid and can not be used as vacation days or the like.
"I hate to be hard-nosed, but we’ve got to treat everybody the same and follow some procedures," said Whatley.
There have been requests that the money garnered from the furlough days be taken from those employees before December 31, but Whatley has decided the NCSS will not do that.
"The money is going to come out of our checking account by December, but we’re not going to deduct it from our employees like that," said Whatley. "We’re going to spread it out over the pay periods. That softens the blow."
The amount deducted from the employees is roughly 1.57 percent of their salary.
"This could not have come at a worse time," said Whatley. "We’re getting ready for the start of school and we’ve had such momentum, but we’re going to work to make certain that momentum continues. This is just a momentary bump in the road."
Concerns have been voiced that the state will ask that systems make additional cuts beginning the first of the year, but Whatley said he didn’t know if that would happen or not.
Board member Eddie Johnson asked if the local contributions that go toward employee salaries were being cut as well as the state funds.
"Not yet," said Whatley. "That could come at some time. It’s not a large amount, but it could be something that is on the table. But these numbers are based on the bottom line salary which is comprised of both state and local funds.
"Let me make it clear," he continued. "A T4 degree — a teacher with zero years’ experience — that person’s salary is made up of two pots of money. The state portion and the local portion and this 3 percent cut applies to the total."
The board approved the revised calendar unanimously.
"In my heart of hearts I know this is not going to affect the teachers’ enthusiasm for that first day of school and for learning throughout the year," said board chair Dr. C.C. Bates. "Teachers for years have worked on their own time and will continue to do what they have to do for their students. I know the teachers of Newton County are going to make this work. It is just unfortunate because they are the ones that are going to bear the brunt of this."