System backtracks on budget promise

By Greg Gelpi

A promise to restore budget cuts could go to the wayside.

Officials with Clayton County Public Schools promised in March to restore budget cuts if additional funding became available, but a proposal opts to save the money.

The state provided more funding than expected since the Clayton County Board of Education implemented more than $16 million in cuts, but a proposed fiscal year 2005 budget doesn't restore any cuts.

The more than $3.5 million additional funding will instead be set aside to build a rainy-day fund, according to the proposed budget.

The goal is to "minimize impact" to the classroom, Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis told the school board at its last board meeting of the proposed budget.

The school board's next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday when the board is expected to consider approving a "tentative" budget, Davis said. The board must adopt a final budget by June 30.

"We did get some good news," Davis said of the additional state funding at the meeting, but added that the funding would be used to bring the school system closer to a balanced budget. The school system is also trying to build a fund of $10 million in case of emergencies.

The Evening High School, one item dropped from the budget, cost the system $26,500 to operate since it was funded by fees charged to students. The decision to cancel the Evening School prompted some parents to write letters and rally support to save the school.

The school system plans to spend almost $9 million more than it plans to take in next fiscal year. The difference will come from about $15 million that the school system has in savings.

"We're spending our money where we need to spend our money," Davis said, pointing out that about 70 percent of the general budget goes directly into classroom instruction. "This hasn't been a fun process. This hasn't been an easy process."

Sid Chapman, the president of the Clayton County Education Association, has followed the budgetary process and said the school system should stick to its promise unless it has convincing reasons to do otherwise.

"I think they should stick to their promise to call back the teachers they let go," Chapman said. "I would like to know their reasons. To just put money back in funds doesn't seem good enough."

The school board approved an option March 22 to cut 51 teaching positions, 44 physical education positions, two orchestra positions and two senior administrative positions.

The option also impacted high school advanced placement and the evening school, extended day, coordinators and area instructional specialists, Starlab teachers and 11 lead teachers.

All departmental budgets were cut by 10 percent. Non- teaching positions would not receive a 2 percent pay raise. Class sizes would be increased to the maximum allowed by the state, which would eliminate 51 teaching positions. School bus purchases from the general budget and new textbook adoptions would be delayed.