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Citizens committee members voice budget concerns

By Greg Gelpi

Anything but Option Five, Tonya Pass said.

Pass, one of nine members on a citizens advisory committee for the Clayton County school system budget, voiced her opinion, one shared by fellow committee member Mary Baker.

Chief Financial Officer Theresa McDugald walked the committee through the budget process and presented five budget options for the fiscal year 2006 budget's general fund, options previously presented to the Clayton County Board of Education.

No one would receive a pay raise under Option Five, other than the state-approved 2 percent pay raises for teachers, a significant difference from the other options being considered.

"Please do not look at Option Five," said Pass, a Smith Elementary School paraprofessional and appointee of board member Connie Kitchens. "Those people work too hard not to see a raise."

Baker, an appointee of board member Eddie White, agreed.

"Option Five is not an option," she said.

Baker, however, cautioned that additional pay raises for central office employees who recently received the large pay raises, which prompted the school board to impose a pay raise freeze, wouldn't go over well with the public.

"I can tell you that would be a publicity nightmare," Baker said, adding "especially, if you're going to raise my taxes to do it."

Two options, options three and four, call for raising the millage rate by a half mill, which would increase the school system's revenue by more than $3.3 million.

Options one through four call for a 2 percent pay raise for all school system staff. Option Four calls for an additional 1 percent raise for certified employees, including teachers.

Although each of the options is different, some items are common to all of the options. All options call for saving the school system $4.3 million by cutting the instructional technology specialist position at each of the county's 55 schools.

The instructional technology specialists would be given the option of taking positions as classroom teachers.

Other significant expenses in all five options are $500,000 for a compensation study, $2.7 million for a state-mandated Georgia Performance Standards roll-out, $750,000 to establish a research and evaluation department and $2.3 million for the county's first charter school.

Other significant savings in all five options include more than $270,000 by eliminating six central office secretaries, about $213,000 by eliminating two coordinators in Teaching and Learning, $5 million by more effectively using Title VIB funds and $2.1 million by using Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds to cover laptop lease payments. Other positions that would be cut by all five options are a custodian, two paraprofessionals in maintenance, a part-time position in Teaching and Learning and one training specialist.

Many of the positions offered up for elimination are currently vacant or soon to be vacated by retirements.

The short-term goal is a balanced budget, McDugald said. The long-term goal is to set aside $28 million in reserves.

The budget process comes in the wake of the school system suffering a combined $41.8 million in state funding cuts from the past five years.

Other members of the committee are Millie Sharkey named by Dave Ashe, Lee Scott named by Wendell "Rod" Johnson, Gwendolyn Park named by LaToya Walker, Arlecia Battle named by Ericka Davis, Gail Hambrick named by Yolanda Everett, Elizabeth Armstrong named by Lois Baines Hunter and Henry Goss named by Allen T. Johnson.

The school board will hold budget work session meetings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and April 29.

The final budget is tentatively slated to be adopted in mid to late May, and three public hearings will follow in mid-May and late June.