By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education approved, on Monday, a plan to use federal jobs stimulus money to give five work days back to educators in the county, with the caveat that they spend those days in professional development.
The school system received $9.3 million, as part of the federal government's $26 billion jobs bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in August. The bill included $10 billion to be used to support approximately 160,000 education jobs nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education's web site.
The school board's 6-1 vote in favor of restoring five work days to educators, which had been lost earlier this year in budget cuts, came three weeks after the board seemed split on whether teachers should have to do any work to receive the money.
School Superintendent Edmond Heatley recommended giving the five days back with the requirement for professional development. The school board could have also gone in a completely different direction, and put the money in the district's general fund, to use all of it to save jobs in the future.
School board member, Michael King, voted against Heatley's plan on how to use the money, without participating in discussions on the measure. Another member, Charlton Bivins, abstained from the vote because he has a relative who works for the school system.
"We had the option of giving it back to our employees, and we also had the option of putting it back into the general fund," Clayton County School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said. "However, we felt it was more important to make sure we gave it to our employees ... Our employees are important. They work hard. They do a good job, and we want to make sure that they are taken care of."
The school system now has to determine how it will pay educators for the five extra days. Heatley told educators who attended the board meeting he would not give all of the money back in one payment, because much of it could end up being lost in taxes. He said it will be done in multiple payments, but the details of how many payments that will be have not yet been determined.
The board's decision to largely stick together on how to use the jobs bill money came down to teachers contacting board members and telling them they support the professional development requirement, said board member, Jessie Goree.
Three weeks ago, Goree was vocal in her opposition to making educators work to get the five days of pay back. She said calls she received from teachers since then, convinced her to change her stance.
"They called me and said they'd be willing to do the professional development if it meant they got their five days back," Goree said. "If they don't have a problem with it, then I guess I don't have a problem with it, either."
Heatley said $7 million of the jobs bill money will be used to give the five days back to teachers, and the remaining $2.3 million will be used to reduce an expected shortfall of $35 million in the school system's fiscal year 2012 budget. Heatley said restoring the five days would only cost the district $7 million, meaning the district would have met the federal government's mandates on how to use the money.
"You can only go back to August of this year [for restoring days], and we only reduced the work year, for this year, by five days," Heatley said. "As far as the federal mandate, the district has met that mandate. We've done exactly what the federal government required us to do with this funding."
The school board actually had two other options for dealing with the money. Those options included:
* Using all of the money to save 175 jobs, and reducing an anticipated shortfall in the fiscal year 2012 budget, from $35 million, to $26 million.
* Mixing parts of the first two options, with educators getting three days back, and the remaining money being used to save an unspecified number of jobs in the fiscal year 2012 budget. Under this proposal, the district would have used $4.3 million to give the three days back, and the remaining $5 million would have been used to reduce the anticipated shortfall to $30 million.
Heatley said it is possible some positions in the district might be cut in the fiscal year 2012 budget in an effort to balance it out.
Board member, Mary Baker, said her only concern was how teachers would react in the spring if cuts are needed again. "I'm really worried [that] when I sit here next spring, I'm going to have teachers calling me again going, 'Why can't you just cut my pay a little bit, and save my job,'" she said, turning her attention to teachers in the audience. "Please take this seriously. This is an opportunity to get your money back, and get some training that you don't have to pay for."
Clayton County Education Association (CCEA) President, Sid Chapman, said teachers are happy with the plan to give them five days of pay back, even if it means they have to spend that time in professional development courses. As Chapman pleaded with board members to approve Heatley's proposal for using the money, more than 60 CCEA members in the audience stood up to show their support of the plan.