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BOE closes NMA, refuses 4-day school week; Millage rate likely to rise to maximum

By Diane Glidewell

dglidewell@jacksonprogress-argus.com

A four-hour Board of Education budget work session on Thursday morning, April 29 began with public comments from 15 individuals. Each of them had one or more items which they wished to save on the BOE's infamous B3 list of possible cuts to the Butts County School System's 2010-11 budget.

One speaker provided the Georgia Transparency in Government website where Butts County school employees' salaries can be viewed by the public: www.audits.state.ga.us.

The Butts County School System, with approximately 531 employees, is the largest employer in the county. Serving over 3,500 and drawing its local revenue primarily from property taxes, the Butts County School Systems cuts will affect every citizen of Butts County.

The work on the budget and its almost $4 million shortfall began in earnest for the Board at the first budget work session on April 19. At that time the Board allowed public comment before a large crowd in the Rufus Adams Auditorium and then took a quick vote in favor of the A, B1, and B2 list of items to be cut from the budget, 4-1. Only Board member Linda Godin cast a vote in opposition to approving all the cuts except those on the final B3 list.

The meeting followed much the same format on April 29 although the crowd was much smaller since the meeting occurred during the work day. After listening to the input from parents, school employees, and others who wished to speak, the Board reviewed the projected state and local revenue and expenditures. Revenue projections were less than they were a week ago with several factors, including workers compensation, unemployment, and health insurance costs, still unknown.

The total estimated revenue was $25,731,451 whereas expenditures without cuts would be $28,461,406, a deficit of $2,729,955. To this deficit must be added a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) debt of $1,800,000 for a total shortage of $4,529,955. Cuts approved from the first three lists presented to the Board totaled $1,494,355, still leaving a deficit of over $3 million.

Current law will only allow the School Board to increase property taxes less than two mills, and each mill is projected to bring in only about $600,000.

Board member John Morris put up for discussion that cutting all local supplements to salaries would save approximately $205,000. Board member Linda Godin estimated that salaries for employees with over 30 years service totaled about $1.5 million. She asked about offering an early retirement incentive. The answer from Superintendent Lynda White was that employees can continue working 50 years if they want and inquiries circulated about interest in early retirement had received virtually no response.

The Board set an Open Forum Budget Work Session to which all Butts County School System employees are invited on Monday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Rufus Adams Auditorium. The purpose is to allow all employees to have a voice in and knowledge of the budget process.

Board member Roland Lee then said some parents told him they opposed the proposal of a four-day school week as a cost-saving measure. It was estimated the school system could save $496,480 in transportation and utility costs by going from a five-day to a four-day week, with no salary cuts. Days would be longer to cover the required instructional hours per year. Peach and Murray Counties implemented this change during the 2009-2010 school year.

"Scratch off the four-day [from the B3 list]," said Lee. "People don't want it."

The motion to remove the four-day week from consideration as a cost-cutting measure passed with a 4-1 vote from the board with Godin voting in opposition to the measure.

Lee made a motion to close North Mulberry Academy and relocate the Rainbow Pre-kindergarten Learning Center from the facility it shares with NMA. After some discussion about how much money the closing and relocation would actually save, the motion passed with a 3-2 vote. Lee, Morris, and Battle voted to close the facility housing NMA; Godin and Clifford Marshall voted against the motion.

Closing NMA eliminates three teaching positions, one principal, one receptionist, one paraprofessional, one nutrition worker, and 1.5 custodians. Details will be worked out later, but the current plan for the students who were at NMA is to send them to a designated classroom at the middle school and high school with one teacher at each location. There is space for them at the middle school; a trailer will be added at the high school to free a classroom for the NMA students. They will primarily pursue coursework on-line. The current maximum class size for the high school is 32 students; it is 28 students at the middle school.

"We know some of these kids will be back on the streets," said Board Chairman Ernest Battle.

The present plan is to relocate the Rainbow Center students to Daughtry Elementary. Other arrangements will be made for the Parent Resource Center and the Parents Educators who were co-located with the Rainbow Center. The only savings from moving the Rainbow Center will be through reduction of utility costs.

Morris made a motion to approve three cuts from the B3 list recommended by Superintendent White. These cuts reduce the Occupational Therapist to 50 percent, eliminate the School Social Work clerical employee, and change the one employee at Central Office with a 210 day year to 200 days. The Board unanimously approved these cuts, which totaled $53,700.

Lee made a motion to take art, music, and physical education at the elementary schools and JROTC at the high school off the B3 list of possible cuts. Godin seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously. Morris motioned to remove art, music, and physical education at the middle school from the list, also, and the Board approved this motion unanimously.

The only major option mentioned for increasing revenue was an increase in property taxes.

After the Open Forum on May 17, the next budget work session was set for Monday, May 24. There will be a regular meeting of the Board on Monday, June 7, and the Board will meet Thursday, July 1 to finalize the budget. After setting these dates, the Board moved into executive session.

Items which now remain on the B3 list for possible cuts are: 4 School Instructional Support (Learning Support Staff) positions, 3 Assistant Principal positions, All Substitutes (except for long term), JHS Academic coaches, Half of Kindergarten Paraprofessionals, Competition Field Trips, Half of Elementary Counseling positions, Media paraprofessionals, Half of Middle School Counseling positions, Eliminate all but two bookkeeping positions and house bookkeeping centrally, Middle School and High School Resource Officers, HMS Graduation Coach, HMS Math Coach, JHS Graduation Coach, PE paraprofessionals, Change all Nursing positions to Health Care Workers, 1 custodian, Parents supply $10,000 of copy paper. .