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Elementary alternative school among proposals for budget adjustment

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Higher income from property taxes, quality-based enrollment and state grants means the Clayton County School System has collected about $1.4 million more than it expected to have at this time.

The increased funds are the result of the school system starting the fiscal year with more money than expected, salaries for teachers being lower than budget planners estimated, property taxes producing $3 million more than expected, and state funds bringing in more than anticipated.

At the same time, the school system has received $3.82 million less in federal-grant dollars than expected when the Board of Education approved the budget in June.

The board will vote on the annual mid-year budget adjustment at its work session, on Dec. 19. Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan has several projects she'd like to see the board consider when it approves the mid-year adjustment, including spending $769,476 to create an alternative school for elementary students. The proposed school is raising concerns with the board's leading member, though.

"That's a lawsuit waiting to happen," said Ericka Davis, the board's chairperson. "I know some of you are big on discipline, but when you begin talking about putting 6- and 7-year-olds in an alternative school, you're getting into a sensitive area for parents."

One of Duncan's goals is to create a "safe and secure" learning environment in Clayton schools. While she didn't directly talk about creating an alternative school for elementary students during a question-and-answer session with parents on Tuesday night, Duncan did hint at her plans when answering a question about discipline.

"If we can get them when they are young, we won't have so many of these problems when they are in middle school, and high school," she told parents.

Duncan's request to create an alternative school for elementary school students comes as the future looks uncertain for the alternative school currently dealing with older pupils. The school system has considered out-sourcing the alternative school to a private company, since a blue ribbon commission convened by former superintendent, Barbara Pulliam, made the recommendation earlier this year.

Contract negotiations with Nashville-based Community Education Partners (CEP) stalled this fall, however, when a competitor, Camelot Schools, filed an injunction in court. Camelot was the lowest bidder to take over the alternative school, but was not recommended to the board by Pulliam. Camelot officials believed the former superintendent had been coerced into her decision.

The board decided to terminate contract negotiations with CEP and re-issue a call for bids.

Meanwhile, the school system requested the current alternative school get one more counselor, a social worker, an additional psychologist, one more behavior interventionist, two middle school teachers, two high school teachers, two paraprofessionals, and two campus security officers.

"The district position is to make certain that the existing program is up to standard," said Valya Lee, Duncan's chief of staff, at the Sept. 10 board meeting. The board approved spending $624,000 to create these positions on Sept. 10, by a 7-1-1 vote. Board member Norreese Haynes opposed the plan, while his colleague, David Ashe, abstained.

Some of the other suggestions Duncan is making for the mid-year budget adjustment include restoring the custodial discretionary funds; purchasing adopted social studies textbooks; expanding textbook automation; providing $974,547 in additional Quality-Based Equivalency funds for Lewis Academy of Excellence; providing $330,518 in additional funds for security personnel; creating a hearing office, hiring an administrative assistant for the student services department, and adjusting salaries for paraprofessionals, school secretaries, custodians, bus monitors and school nutrition staff members.