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School board discusses teacher pay raises

By Greg Gelpi

How can pay raises be given, to whom should they be given and can it be done without raising taxes, members of the Clayton County Board of Education asked as they had their first opportunity to question proposals for the fiscal year 2006 budget.

The school board is considering five options previously presented by Chief Financial Officer Theresa McDugald. Options One through Four call for a 2 percent pay raise for all school system staff. Option Four also calls for an additional 1 percent raise for certified employees, including teachers.

"We do know that teachers in Clayton County are paid lower than our competitors," Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said. "Nothing impacts staff morale more than not getting a raise in three or four years. I truly believe that I cannot ask staff to go three years without a raise."

In light of recent "significant" pay raises that prompted the school board to approve a moratorium on pay raises, Board Chairwoman Ericka Davis asked about the possibility of not giving staff who received those raises the proposed new raise.

McDugald said the savings would be $22,000.

Members of a citizens advisory committee formed by the school board voiced informal opposition to Option Five, which calls for no raises for any employees. A formal recommendation by the committee to the board is expected this week.

Tonya Pass, a Clayton County paraprofessional on the committee, said that a 2 percent or 3 percent pay raise would be less than increased costs for insurance for some school system employees.

Two options, Option Three and Option 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.

McDugald said that the half mill would mean that someone owning a $100,000 home would pay an additional $15 in property taxes, someone owning a $150,000 home would pay an additional $25 in property taxes, and someone owning a $200,000 home would pay an additional $35 in property taxes.

Because pay raises are a recurring cost to the school system, Davis expressed concern that raising property taxes to 19.416 mills would leave little room for future increases, because the school system's cap is set at 20 mills.

Mary Baker, another member of the committee, told the board that Clayton County is also considering raising taxes and that voters only months ago approved the school system's 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Although each of the options is different, some items are common to all of the options.

A $300,000 item is included in all five options to fund two additional school resource officers, canine support and other school security necessities.

All of the options also 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.

Significant expenses in all five options include $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.

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.

The school board will hold a second budget work session from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday.

The budget is scheduled to be tentatively adopted May 2 with public hearings May 16 and May 23.

The final budget is tentatively slated to be adopted June.