Heatley: 'Everything is on the table'

Almost nothing may be considered off-limits as Clayton County Public Schools tries to figure out how to handle expected budget deficits that could grow to as much as $103.5 million in the coming years.

That's what Superintendent Edmond Heatley told members of the Clayton County Board of Education on Monday.

Heatley has not yet revealed his plan for addressing the projected deficits, telling board members it is "still in my head." He said a set of recommendations for reducing expenditures should be offered at the board's Feb. 1 business meeting.

He did say, however, that he is projecting the district will have a deficit of $103.5 million by the end of fiscal year 2012, because of harsher than expected results from the nation's recession. Earlier this month, he said he thought the district would end that fiscal year with a deficit of $36 million.

In an attempt to offset some of the shortfall, Heatley said there are several options, including eliminating some key positions; reducing work days and work years, and even shutting down the school system for one month of the calendar year. "When I say everything is on the table, I mean everything is on the table," he said. "Every division, every department is being touched, including the superintendent's office."

Heatley said the options from which he may choose come from staff and community input, including suggestions from members of the district's Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee.

He also gave school board members an update on the district's budget planning for fiscal year 2011. He said funding sources will be affected by a growing federal deficit, declining state revenues and a local property tax digest that has "eroded," and is generating 45 percent less revenue than anticipated.

Clayton County Public Schools could be facing a budget deficit of $40.8 million in June 2011, Heatley said. "When you look at our federal, state and local funding challenges, it does not give a very bright, sunny picture for our county," he said.

Heatley said he is working on a plan, however, that could save the district millions of dollars. "I believe I have a plan that could save us $23.7 million, but we can't do that without cutting people. We can't do that without drastic changes," he said.

While the superintendent said he will present his recommendation for cutting expenditures at the board's Feb. 1 meeting, he presented a long list of options he may choose from.

The options include:

• Closing the school system for the entire month of July, which would save an estimated $1.2 million per year.

• Eliminating summer school and remediation for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs) and the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT), which would save an estimated $1.43 million per year.

• Eliminating freshman academies at the district's high schools, saving another $155,000 per year.

• Eliminating some key positions, including the deputy superintendent ($190,000 per year), one of four area assistant superintendent positions ($127,429 per year), and the special assistant to the superintendent position ($138,511 per year).

Other positions that could be cut include one assistant coordinator; one of two coordinators of guidance counseling; an executive director position; one assistant director position; nine coordinator positions; two director positions; 11 instructional coaching support positions; 12 school improvement specialist support positions; five administrative assistant positions; a human resources specialist position; one position in the district's communications department, and the purchasing office manager position.

All employees could also see their workday reduced to seven hours, while several employees, at varying levels, could see their work year downsized by 10 days, and retiring educators may no longer receive sick-leave payouts.

Meals provided to school board members at school board meetings may also be cut, at a savings of $11,000 per year, while security at the district's central office may be eliminated, except for school board meetings ($51,672 per year). Ceasing to hold high school graduations outside of Clayton County is one option, at a savings of $60,000 per year.

Parliamentary services may also be discontinued at school board meetings, which would save the district $10,000 per year.

School Board Member Jessie Goree suggested that the district eliminate some of its administrative "chief" positions. "We do have a lot of chiefs," she said. "Maybe, we ought to downgrade some of those people to positions with lower salaries."

School Board Member Wanda Smith said she foresees problems with the district not paying out sick leave to retiring employees. "If I'm a teacher who is about to retire, and I have six months of sick leave built up, personally, I'm going to burn those days up," Smith said. "If that happens, you wind up paying it out, anyway."

Heatley said the full list of options he presented to the school board will be posted on the school system's web site on Wednesday.