First day of school starts smoothly

By Trina Trice

The first day for Clayton County Schools might have gone on without a hitch, but administrators are still facing some challenges with shortages in teachers, bus drivers and crossing guards.

Although the school system has hired 670 new teachers, counselors, and media specialists, vacancies still exist.

Approximately 19 regular and 28 special education teacher vacancies exist.

The personnel department is releasing a lengthy report on the school system's staffing numbers in September, said Ed Scott, director of Personnel.

To recruit more special education teachers, where the shortage is highest, the school system has advertised the positions in other states that could produce more qualified candidates.

"I'm hopeful that we'll have candidates to fill each position," said Tom Erdmanczyk, director of Special Education. "There is a critical shortage, but we've been lucky in metro Atlanta ?cause we tend to attract people from up North and our salary is competitive."

The school system currently employs 502 special education teachers.

The number of school nurses is also low, especially in middle schools.

Only one out of the county's 12 middle schools has an on-campus school nurse.

Of the 33 nurses currently employed, one is stationed at Adamson Middle School, one at North Clayton High School, and one at the Alternative School.

Most of the counties 32 elementary schools have nurses, with some exceptions.

The 2004 budget provides a 6.5 percent increase in spending for nurses, rising from $1.02 million to $1.08 million.

The Transportation Department staff is covering the routes while the department still looks for more bus drivers.

The school system currently has 466 buses and more than 350 bus drivers.

"We have enough people, including our staff, to cover all our routes," said Ronnie Blake, assistant superintendent of Auxiliary Services.

The school system just hired between 12 and 15 drivers, however, Blake estimated the Transportation Department could be short between 10 and 12 drivers when school started. For the first day of school Monday, though, the department operated the routes smoothly, according to Jerry Jackson, spokesman for the school system.

A bus driver starting out makes $940 a month, must go through 15 days of training, and successfully pass a criminal background check.

Martin Luther King Jr. and James Jackson elementary schools are two of Clayton County's newest schools that officially opened their doors to students for the first time Monday.

"It's gone very well," said Dr. Donna Jones, principal of Jackson Elementary School, Monday afternoon. "The students are enjoying it."

The school system built the new schools to relieve overcrowding in surrounding schools. But because the student population is growing at such rapid rate, more than 1,200 per year, both MLK and Jackson elementary schools will have trailers on the school campus.

Of the more than 771 students projected to attend Jackson Elementary School, children are coming from Mt. Zion, Smith, Kilpatrick and Lee Street elementary schools.

Of the 825 students projected to attend MLK Elementary School, many children are coming from Fountain, Church Street, West Clayton, Oliver, and Hendrix Drive elementary schools.

The county's schools and municipalities are still trying to figure out how they'll handle the cutting of 19 crossing guards.

The county commissioner's cut the guards from the 2004 fiscal year budget, decreasing the number of guards from 53 to 34.

The move to reduce the number of guards is to save money, more than $110,000, according to Tommy Wright, coordinator of special services for the county.

Another reason for the reduction is the anticipation of new schools, said Crandle Bray, Clayton County Board of Commissioner chairman.

Last year the county funded crossing guards at 28 schools, that number would drop down to 18 by the beginning of the 2003-2004 school year.

The county's municipalities are now responsible for funding crossing guards for schools within their jurisdiction. That request affects Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, Morrow and Riverdale.

The city of Forest Park could wind up spending more than $50,000 to supplement the school crossing guard cuts.

Lake City is spending $5,000 for one school crossing guard. Riverdale could spend more than $38,000.