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Clayton Schools budget: Salaries down $30.7 million

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Despite having a budget-reduction plan in place to cut spending by $84 million over the next two years, Clayton County Public Schools will still have a $4 million deficit in June 2011, district officials announced on Monday.

School System Budget and Grants Director Ramona Thurman presented the general fund portion of the proposed fiscal year 2011 budget to members of the school board Monday. It calls for $47.9 million less than what was budgeted for the district a year ago. And the biggest part of the decrease in expenditures is $30.77 million in salary cuts for school system employees.

The other cuts will come from supplies, ranging from textbooks, to computer software ($9.1 million); professional and technology services ($1.96 million); property, such as school buses and computers ($1.69 million); property services, such as land and equipment rental, and utilities ($1.37 million); employee benefits ($1.16 million); services, such as travel for employees and school board members, communication, and insurance ($1.14 million); "Other expenses," such as dues and fees for professional organizations ($632,391), and transfers to other funds in the budget ($28,566).

"We'll still have to look for ways to cut expenditures to balance the budget and end the year in the black," Thurman said. There will be a follow-up budget work session on May 17, and tentative adoption of the budget by the school board is scheduled to take place on May 24, according to Thurman.

If the budget projections for fiscal year 2011 prove to be true, it will be the first time in several years that the school system has found itself ending a fiscal year in the red. In recent years, the district has regularly ended its fiscal years with $20 million or more in its bank account.

The school system is expected to begin the next fiscal year with $21.6 million, but revenues for the year are projected to only be $332.17 million, while expenditures are projected to be $357.84 million. That leaves a projected gap of $4 million in June 2011.

As local and state revenues have diminished over the last year, public school systems across the state have had to make cuts. As a precaution, Thurman said the district is anticipating that $21 million in local property taxes that were due last November will not be paid. She also said the budget includes a projection that there will be a $27.1 million "austerity cut" from the state.

School officials have repeatedly said all options for cutting expenses were being looked at for the fiscal year 2011 budget, and all district employees would have to share the burden of budget cuts. For most people, that will mean taking a pay cut in fiscal year 2011, according to Thurman. She said salaries make up roughly 90 percent of the budget's general fund.

However, while the amount of money some employees make would be reduced, so would the number of days they work. Those people who are classified as 230-day employees, including Superintendent Edmond Heatley, district-level administrators, and principals, will see their work year cut by 10 days, resulting in their lower salaries. Assistant principals would also see their work year cut by 10 days.

Other areas, such as teacher salaries, are down because of reductions that were made during the current fiscal year that amount to a 1.5 percent salary reduction. Classroom teachers will take a combined $11 million cut.

The salary cuts are spread out across 30 other classifications of employees, including administrative personnel ($4.94 million); clerical staff members ($3.55 million); maintenance workers ($2.4 million); custodial personnel ($2.37 million); assistant principals ($1.62 million); bus drivers ($1.5 million); substitute teachers ($709,260); school media specialists ($505,766); elementary school counselors ($368,446); principals ($306,897); deputy and assistant superintendents ($278,880); school social workers ($270,309); school psychologists ($211,216); physical occupational therapists ($199,704), and middle and high school counselors ($127,582). Heatley's salary would be cut by $10,869.

School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said several district employees have contacted school board members, and expressed a preference for taking a salary cut over losing their jobs. She said that is the board's preference as well.

"We'd rather give a salary cut than loose people," she said.

"There are going to be [fewer] people employed by the school system next year than there are this year," Heatley said. "We have reduced expenditures, we have reduced salaries, but what we haven't done, is touch classrooms."

There is still hope for parents of students attending schools of choice, however. The budget currently includes the elimination of transportation for those students from their homes to schools such as the Unidos Dual Language Charter School, the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School in Jonesboro, the Fine Arts Magnet High School, the district's alternative school, and the Open Campus High School.

School System Deputy Superintendent Stefanie Phillips said discussions are taking place daily at the district-level to find a solution that will result in as many of the students at these schools as possible being able to get to their schools.