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Clayton School System cancels two job fairs

By Curt Yeomans

Clayton County Schools, faced with fewer students and anticipated state funding cuts, is holding off on hiring new teachers for now.

The district canceled job fairs it had scheduled for Friday, and for March 14, because of anticipated reductions in its teacher allotment from the state.

"We are looking at a reduction in our allotments, because of a reduction in student enrollment, which was primarily caused by the loss of accreditation," said Larry Conner, the district's chief of human resources.

The school system is facing the possibility of losing at least $23 million in state funding in the next fiscal year, because of issues surrounding the loss of accreditation, and the nation's troubling economic condition.

More than $16 million of the anticipated reduction in state funding will come in the form of reduced Full-Time Equivalency (FTE) funding. These funds are decreasing because they are per-pupil allotments, and are, therefore, tied to the size of a district's student population. More than 3,000 students have left the Clayton system since its accreditation was revoked in September.

Another $6 million reduction is expected in the form of state austerity cuts. In addition to the state cuts, school officials expect to lose $5 million in local tax revenue when car rental agencies at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport move to a new facility in Fulton County in November.

Given the nation's current economic struggles, Conner said economics played a major role in canceling the job fairs. "There is an expense for the applicants to come here for a job fair, especially if they are coming from out of state," Conner said. "It wouldn't be fair to get their hopes up for a job that isn't there."

Conner said the school system will now conduct targeted recruitment to hire teachers for key areas, including special education, science, mathematics and foreign languages. Teachers for these areas are being recruited because district officials deem these areas to be crucial to improving student achievement in the county's schools, the human resources chief said.

Conner said the district will also look internally for teachers to reassign to the new high school, which will open in August. But he pointed out that the school will only open with freshmen and sophomores. As the students grow older, the eleventh and twelfth grades will be added.

Any vacancies at the new high school, which cannot be filled internally, will be filled through the targeted recruiting efforts, Conner said.

The human resources chief also said future job fairs, scheduled for April and beyond, may also be canceled. Clayton County is not the only local school system which has canceled job fairs recently. Cowetta County school officials announced last week they were also canceling their district's teacher job fairs.

"All of our school districts are faced with a reduction of revenue right now," Conner said. "There are more foreclosures, and property values may be staying the same, or decreasing, and businesses are hurting financially as well. Certainly, all of those things hurt the local school systems."

The school system has been making moves to minimize the effects of the reduced funding, but has not been able to completely avoid them. In January, the school system said 21 teaching vacancies would not be filled. Conner told the school board earlier this month that the system has a surplus of 153 teachers. He also said the district needed that many teachers to either retire, or accept jobs in other school systems. Otherwise, layoffs may be needed.

Teachers who have been in the district for at least four years are guaranteed to stay with the school system, Conner said Tuesday.