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BOE reviews survey on four-day week

By Diane Glidewell

dglidewell@myjpa.com

The Butts County Board of Education held its final budget work session, in which public comment was allowed, on Monday. The board will now continue to work on designing a balanced budget for the 2010-2011 school year to be adopted by July 1, without public comment at meetings.

"We will hear no recommendations tonight," said Board Chairman Ernest Battle. "Please make contact with [Butts County School Superintendent] Mrs. [Lynda] White before the next meeting if you have more to say."

The board received public input regarding the option of a four-day school week through the results of a survey conducted online and by paper ballots May 18 through May 24. Moving from a five-day week to a four-day week would be projected to save the Butts County school system $496,580.

The option under consideration would extend the time at school to seven hours for elementary students and 7.5 hours for middle school and high school students, including 30 minutes for lunch breaks, to give longer days for attendance Tuesday through Friday. Teachers would work nine hours and 45 minutes, four days per week versus the current eight hours five days per week. The 10 furlough days would be incorporated as one hour per day instead of whole days.

There were reportedly 1,371 responses to the public survey with 74 percent in favor of the proposal and 26 percent opposed. Respondents were asked to identify themselves as parent/guardian, employee, parent/guardian and employee, or community member. Percentages for and against were similar in each group, ranging from 73 percent in favor among both of the first two groups and 78/22 and 80/20 among the latter two groups.

"The survey was not controlled. There was no way to tell whether people voted more than once," said Board Vice Chairman John Morris.

Board Member Linda Godin asked whether the survey could be extended with more data provided to the people responding to the survey. There was no answer to her inquiry.

"There is still no definite data on what the school systems that went to a four-day week this year saved," said Battle.

"I have heard estimates as high as a million dollars, but the Peach County school superintendent told me the savings are expected to be $375,000," said Morris.

"We want to do what the children need, not what the majority wants," said White.

The savings for combining k-12 bus routes had been recalculated at $86,282. This figure is based on 33 regular and seven special education buses. This is one more bus than under the current, divided routes, and this bus is already reportedly available. The proposal anticipates 60 students on a bus and would eliminate 892 miles daily. It would add one driver and five monitors, and all drivers would be on a four-hour-per-day salary schedule. Elementary students would be seated at the front of the bus, followed by middle school students, and then high school students. Siblings would be able to sit together in the section assigned to the youngest sibling.

White said she learned on May 21 that there may be some change in the funds the system will receive from the state through equalization funds, as some systems incorrectly reported information to the state by including Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOST) in their reporting. Auditors are still estimating that each mill of tax levied in Butts County will bring $600,000, with collections at 85 to 86 percent. School System Director of Finance Dee Scott reminded the board that only 15 percent of the system's budget can be kept on hand in the general fund. All other money must be earmarked with a specific purpose.

The third, most recent, general fund preliminary budget for fiscal year 2011 shows revenue of $26,023,355 and expenditures of $27,270,728 for a deficit of $1,247,373 without the additional shortages caused by interest and principal due on SPLOST payments. SPLOST shortages amount to $1,700,000 for a total deficit of $2,947,373. The SPLOST shortages result from less sales tax being collected than was projected, in spite of what were considered conservative projections at the time, based on past sales tax collections.

During a public comment portion of the meeting, Shana Chaney suggested the board cut the evening events at the schools to save on utilities and maintenance. She estimated there are events at the elementary schools about twice monthly. She also spoke in favor of the four-day week. Angela Kish spoke in favor of the extracurricular vocational programs at the high school and also voiced her approval of the four-day week as an option.

The next regular meeting of the board will be on Monday, June 7 at 7 p.m., at the Central Office, 181 North Mulberry Street in Jackson.