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Clayton Schools implements hiring freeze

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Several vacant administrative positions in the Clayton County School System will go unfilled, while others have been eliminated or downgraded, as the district works to address anticipated funding reductions for the next fiscal year, school system officials announced Saturday.

The system expects a $6 million state austerity cut; $16.3 million per-pupil funding reductions, resulting from student flight in the wake of the district's accreditation loss, and $5 million in lost local taxes because car rental agencies at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will move to Fulton County in November.

As a result, the hiring freeze went into place on Jan. 1, and only those positions which deal with a student's health, safety and academic achievement will be filled. No positions can be filled without the approval of Superintendent John Thompson.

"This year's reserve has provided a financial safety net that has covered potential shortfall issues," said district spokesman Charles White, in a statement. "However, as the budget-building process for fiscal year 2010 hits its stride, district leaders have been made aware of revenue issues that could have a negative financial impact for 2009-10...

"It is these revenue issues that have prompted district leaders to take proactive steps to grow resources during 2008-09 that will offset an anticipated shortfall."

Thompson also authorized the elimination or downgrading of four positions in the central administration to help the district save some money. These were district-level positions, including a chief academic officer; the superintendent's chief of staff; the assistant superintendent of human resources, and the chief of student support services.

These positions were eliminated after they were vacated by retirements, or people taking jobs elsewhere. In some cases, there were duplicated positions, such as two chief academic officers when Thompson felt only one was needed, and the assistant superintendent of human resources position, which was on the same level as the chief of human resources.

"As people began to leave, we re-evaluated each position and got rid of some of those we didn't need," said Thompson.

Travel has also been reduced; employees can only attend one professional conference per year; all employees who want overtime pay must receive prior approval from the person in charge of their area, and a global-positioning-tracking program will be used to improve the efficiency of the district's transportation system.

Twenty-one teaching vacancies will not be filled because of the drop in student enrollment. Roger Reese, the school system's chief financial officer, said these were surplus teaching positions beyond the district's allotment from the state.

Reese declined to put a dollar amount on what effects the district's actions will have.

"It's still a moving target," said Reese. "We have realized some savings, but it changes so often."

Thompson did not rule out layoffs, but he said the goal of district officials was to find a way to cut costs without putting the job security of any employees at risk. The superintendent also said he would like the district to reduce costs through the retirements of teachers and administrators. Layoffs would be an action of last resort, said Thompson.

The school system is trying to save money in the budget because district officials are anticipating student enrollment will start to go back up, if the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) restores the system's accreditation this spring.

If the enrollment is up, the school system will need money for more teachers, and other resources to educate those children.

Scott Austensen, the Georgia Department of Education's deputy superintendent of finance and business operations, said it is possible to get more funding to the district through a mid-term adjustment -- if there are more students than anticipated in August.

But, Austensen said it will take time to get that money to the school system. The DOE will provide the Full-Time Equivalency count from October of this year to Gov. Sonny Perdue's office. The governor will then take a request for increased funding to the state legislature in January 2010, and legislators will have to approve the expense.

"We can't release that money until the governor signs it into law," said Austensen, who trained Clayton school board members on Quality-Based Education funding on Saturday. "They'll get the money, but it will be in the last quarter of the [fiscal] year."