By Curt Yeomans
Mundy's Mill Middle School Lead Art Teacher Mariah Buchanan said she will lose more than $100 per day over the three days she and other Clayton County teachers will be furloughed this fall.
On Monday, the Clayton County Board of Education approved furloughing the county's 2,300 teachers and school guidance counselors for at least three days this fall by an 8-0 vote. Only school board member Jessie Goree was not present for the vote.
School system officials, including Superintendent Edmond Heatley, said the furloughs, which were requested of all school systems in Georgia by Gov. Sonny Perdue, could not be avoided because of prior funding deficits.
Buchanan said she believed the furloughs amounted to the school system taking money out of the pockets of teachers, who earlier this summer found out they would not be receiving salary increases this year.
"That was supposed to keep us at the same pay level we were at last year [the 2008-2009 school year]," Buchanan said. "Now, they are saying, 'OK, furlough days are going to take place and you won't get paid for those days.' With furloughs, they are taking money away from me."
Heatley said if the district did not furlough teachers and counselors, the school system would have to adjust by finding $3.3 million to cut from its budget. That is in addition to a 3 percent budget reduction - equal to $6.7 million for Clayton County - which Perdue announced at the same time he asked for the furloughs, Heatley said.
The district also had a $13.9 million funding deficit in its fiscal year 2010 budget that went into effect on July 1, Heatley said. The deficit was caused by a decrease in state funding generated by a loss of 3,500 students during the 2008-2009 school year, when the school system was without its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' accreditation.
As part of an effort to meet the $13.9 million funding deficit, 240-day employees, including Heatley and other central office employees, as well as school principals, are already scheduled to be furloughed for 10 days as part of the district's fiscal year 2010 budget.
"We got hit by the perfect storm," Heatley said. "We had the SACS issue, the economy, the loss of students, and the loss of funding. All of this stuff came together to form the perfect storm."
School board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said the board is asking teachers to have patience and to work with the school system as it tries to navigate a troubled economy. "We're having some tough times right now, and we expect our teachers to work with our superintendent to get through these tough times," Anderson said.
Heatley said teachers at all Clayton County schools, except the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School, will be furloughed for full days on Thursday, and on Oct. 16, as well as for half days on Nov. 20 and Dec. 18. Since school has already begun at the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School, teachers at that school will be furloughed for half days on Sept. 11 and Nov. 20, and for full days on Oct. 16 and Dec. 17.
Heatley also said all school counselors will be furloughed on Oct. 16, Nov. 20 and Dec. 18.
Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman said he has been getting "bombarded" with e-mails and phone calls from teachers who are upset about the furloughs. Chapman said a common complaint teachers have is about contracts, which don't include furloughs.
Chapman said many teachers would have preferred seeing Clayton County work to find an alternative to furloughs.
"It's a morale buster," Chapman said. "We had a new superintendent come in [in July], and hopes were high that things were going to turn around. I'm not blaming him per se, nor the board. I'm just wondering if there was another way to do this."