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Clayton to eliminate 115 school-level positions

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County school officials are scheduled to send letters to 109 paraprofessionals and six school secretaries today to tell them their positions will be eliminated this summer, as part of a reduction in force designed to cut expenses.

District officials are trying to reduce costs to accommodate a more than $19 million decrease in state funding for Fiscal Year 2010. The decrease in funding came about partially because the 48,000-student school system has lost more than 3,000 students since last fall, due to its loss of accreditation. School system officials also said salaries and benefits for the affected paraprofessionals and secretaries equal $2.9 million.

The paraprofessionals and secretaries are the latest in a group of more than 400 employees district officials have decided not to bring back for the 2009-2010 school year. In addition to the paraprofessionals and secretaries, 300 teachers, and 19 administrators are not slated to return next year.

"We lost 3,200 students, so our teacher allotments changed," said Acting Chief Human Resources Officer Douglas Hendrix. "As teacher allotments changed, we had to look at how many paraprofessionals were going to be needed."

Paraprofessionals are employees who provide an extra hand to teachers in the classroom by helping to maintain order, and working with students in small groups.

According to Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman, "It's a mistake to reduce any of them. Any help reduces the student-to-teacher ratio, because [with the paraprofessional] you essentially have two teachers working in the classroom," Chapman said.

Hendrix said the paraprofessional and secretary positions targeted for reduction will come from schools across the district, and the decisions will be made based on seniority levels, annual performance evaluations, and attendance records.

Bookkeepers, one-on-one paraprofessionals, and paraprofessionals at Ash Street School, and Flint River School -- both of which deal with special education students -- and all of the district's pre-kindergarten programs will not be considered for reductions, Hendrix said.

Interim Superintendent Valya Lee said the school system's improvement goals will not be altered by the elimination of the paraprofessional and secretary positions. "It's not going to change anything," she said. "We're still focused on improving student achievement."

School system leaders said they hope to eliminate many of the positions through employee attrition. As of this week, Hendrix said approximately 24 of the targeted paraprofessional positions were already scheduled to be vacated at the end of the school year through retirements, or employees leaving for jobs in other school systems.

He said the school system is going to place the paraprofessionals and secretaries into a pool of employees to be brought back as funding and positions become available. The district will also offer the affected employees job-search training, and invite them to remain in the district as substitute teachers. "The main thing is to get them subbing, so we can get them some money," he said.

Chapman said many of the classroom assistants had expressed fear about their job security, because of an air of uncertainty that existed as the school system prepared to contact the affected employees. Paraprofessionals make up as many as 400 people in CCEA's 2,700 membership rolls, Chapman said.

"They are very concerned because nobody yet knows who they [the affected employees] are," Chapman said.

At the school board's work session on Monday, Boardmember Jessie Goree recommended eliminating a board-approved, one-percent pay raise for teachers for the 2009-2010 school year, so more money would be available to retain the paraprofessionals. "That may possibly save some jobs," Goree said.

Another member, Mary Baker, expressed mixed feelings about the elimination of the paraprofessional and secretary positions. "I don't want anyone to ever have to lose their jobs, but if we don't have the students to justify these employees, how do we justify the taxpayers paying for these positions?" Baker asked.

School System Spokesman John Lyles said the total number of paraprofessionals employed by the school system during the current school year was not immediately available Wednesday.