By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley announced, on Monday, that state approval to increase kindergarten class sizes, will allow the school system to end fiscal year 2011 with a modest surplus of approximately $300,000, despite adding money for a reworked transportation system for school-of-choice institutions.
The school board approved the school system's $505 million spending plan by a 5-3 vote, during a called meeting. School board members Jessie Goree, Trinia Garrett and Michael King voted against the approval of the budget.
The board also voted 7-1 to keep its millage rate at 20 mills.
By increasing kindergarten class sizes from 22 students for every teacher and paraprofessional, to 25 students, the school system will be eliminating 25 kindergarten teacher positions, and 25 kindergarten paraprofessional positions.
These are actions the school board had already approved in April, to cut expenditures in the budget. But Heatley said school officials kept those expenses in the budget as a "contingency," just in case the Georgia Department of Education did not give its blessing. The State Board of Education approved class-size waivers for all school systems in Georgia in May.
Previously, school officials believed that ending the new fiscal year, which begins on Thursday, $2 million in debt might be the best for which they could hope.
"When we factored these things into the budget, it moved us $3.3 million toward the positive," Heatley said. "So, instead of ending the 2010-2011 school year $2 million in the negative, we will now end it $300,000 in the positive, which is good, but not where we need to be."
In addition to the elimination of those teaching positions, another key revision of the reworked budget is the inclusion of a new transportation plan for school-of-choice institutions in the district, including the Unidos Dual Language Charter School, the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School, the district's Fine Arts Magnet High School, Alternative School, and Open Campus High School.
The school system is doing away with home-to-school transportation for these schools, and replacing it with a shuttle-bus system. The original plan, in previous versions of the budget, was to have one shuttle-bus site at Tara Stadium. Parents, particularly those with students at Unidos, balked at this plan, and the school system spent weeks working on a new plan.
Heatley unveiled that plan, which includes four shuttle-bus sites spread out across the county. "There was a question about transportation," he said. "We've made an $800,000 adjustment to the budget to address the issue. We will now have four shuttle-bus sites: at Lovejoy High School, Riverdale High School, Tara Stadium, and Forest Park [High School]."
After the meeting, Heatley said he did not notify the affected schools of the new plan before Monday, because he wanted to wait until he had board approved to go ahead with it. "I will be contacting them, now that it's been approved," he said.
In addition to approving the budget, the school board voted 8-0 to approve new calendars for the 2010-2011, and 2011-2012 school years. The new calendars take into account that the school year will have five fewer days in it, another step the district is taking to cut expenditures.
The new calendars call for classes to end a week earlier, on May 20, 2011, and May 18, 2012. In the past, the school year has ended on the Friday before Memorial Day, which is the last Monday in May.
The school board meeting did not go off without some controversy, however. Lewis Academy of Excellence Chief Executive Officer Patricia Lewis handed out press releases before the meeting, and said she and parents were going to ask the school board to amend its agenda, to re-vote on its charter extension.
The press statement blames the school's inability to get a new charter on the school system. "Lewis Academy of Excellence has provided a high quality education, and a choice for the families of Clayton County," the school's press statement says. "We must stand up and speak for our children."
The school board approved a conditional one-year extension, which was contingent upon the school making some improvements, last summer. The school then turned around, and filed an application with the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to get a 10-year charter to become a state-wide school. The application was denied by the commission, and later the State Board of Education.
Heatley then submitted the school's one-year extension to the Georgia Department of Education. On Monday, the superintendent said charter school officials in the DOE expressed 31 concerns about the school during a review of the request. School System Spokesman Charles White said the state has handed the issue back to the school system, and Lewis Academy will have to re-submit its application for a charter extension. A vote on a new application will not come before August, he added.
"There will be a thorough review of the application, and the earliest the school system can vote on this, meaning the earliest the [county's] board of education can vote on this, is Aug. 2," White said.
Heatley has agreed to meet with Lewis Academy parents tonight, at 7 p.m., at the Clayton County Public Schools Central Administration Complex, which is located at 1058 Fifth Ave., in Jonesboro.