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Henry BOE proposes 2010-11 furlough days

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Some 5,200 Henry County School System employees could be effected by more furlough days.

The Henry County Board of Education is currently reviewing possibilities for furlough days throughout the 2010-11 school year, starting this summer.

The school board's proposal means school administrators would take 10 furlough days, while other employees would take eight days, said Henry County Schools Spokeswoman Connie Rutherford.

Rutherford said the schedule of proposed furlough days has been posted on the school system's web site to give the public a chance to review it, and comment on it, over the next month. She said the school board is expected to have a clearer vision of the schedule later this summer.

"In my 14 years on the school board, this is the first time we've ever done something like this," said School Board Member Pam Nutt.

Nutt said the measure to implement furlough days is an attempt to offset state funding cuts, and losses in local revenues, without further reducing the school system's workforce. "It's the right thing to do ... to save everybody's job," she said. "And this way, no one will be surprised [about state-directed furloughs] like they were this past year."

The school system's 2010 budget was trimmed during the 2009-10 school year, by an amount equal to six furlough-days-worth of state funding.

Similar anticipated losses in state and local revenues, Nutt added, have forced the school board to reduce its budget by $33 million, lowering the 2011 budget to $284 million, down from $317 million in 2010.

"Every year, they've been telling us, it can't get any worse," Nutt said. "I thought we were dealing with less this year, and they're telling us next year will be even worse. You've got to hit bottom eventually."

The proposed furlough days have been considered as a part of the savings in the 2011 budget, and would be included in the 2010-11 school year, if the school board approves the furlough days.

Based on the proposal, most employees who are paid for fewer than 244 days of work would experience eight furlough days: July 25-26, 2010; Nov. 1-2, 2010; Jan. 3-4, 2011; May 31, 2011; and June 1, 2011.

For 244-day administrators and others paid from the leadership salary scale, this 2010-11 school calendar would have a total of ten furlough days, including Sept. 13-17, 2010; Nov. 1, 2010; and Jan. 3-4, 2011.

School system departments will have the discretion to choose the remaining two furlough days, according to Spokeswoman Connie Rutherford. The departments would be able to offer any two of the following days -- Nov. 22-23, 2010; and Feb. 22-25, 2011.

Rutherford said all departments are expected to be operational during that window of time, and are being asked to stagger their employee furloughs, so departments are adequately staffed.

The school system's web site notes that the furlough-day proposal would result in three fewer attendance days for students, or 177 of the typical 180 attendance days. For students, it means, if more than one school day is missed during the 2010-11 school year, those additional days would need to be made up.

Some educators are embracing the furlough days as the better alternative to cutting jobs. Stella Irving, a physical education teacher at Pleasant Grove Elementary School, said she is encouraged to know that, compared to other school systems around the state, fewer jobs are being eliminated in Henry County.

"If furloughing me can save a co-worker's job, and keep a roof over their family's head, furlough me," Irving said.

School Board Member Nutt said she hopes educators and school system employees can remain positive, despite the difficult news. "It was very tough to furlough people," Nutt said. "But in the private industry, they let people go. We had a choice, we could start cutting people, or cut salaries."

"The way I look at it, I'm just thankful to have a job," added Nutt, who is also a media specialist at Moore Elementary School in Griffin. "To have insurance and my benefits. I'm willing to give up furlough days to keep my job."