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BOE hears from school employees on budget

By Diane Glidewell

dglidewell@myjpa.com

The Butts County Board of Education held an open forum for employees of the Butts County school system on Monday, May 17, at the Rufus Adams Auditorium. Roughly 75 to 100 individuals were in attendance, a much smaller group than had attended the earlier budget work session held at the auditorium on April 19, which was geared toward the general public.

Over the last two weeks, Superintendent Lynda White has reportedly met with employees at each school to explain the budget numbers, answer questions, and hear concerns. Butts County School Board Chairman Ernest Battle began Monday's session by stating that those who wished to address the board with public comments would be limited to three minutes.

"We welcome you here tonight as team members. This is a first. We've never had this much of a shortfall," said Battle. "We believe in transparency. We're open to new ideas."

Eight individuals chose to address the board. The first was Lane Woodward, Jackson High School agriculture teacher, who asked that the board not forget students who need the activities offered before and after school, and often gain as much, or more, from the competitions and other opportunities as they do from the classroom.

School system employees, Dede Rowland, Jay Ellis and Carol Cabral, asked the board to reconsider the option of a four-day school week, with extended hours, as a cost-cutting measure. The board had voted to remove this suggestion from consideration at its April 29 budget work session. Rowland and Cabral both said they had talked with day care providers and teachers who said they would step up to fill the need for childcare on the fifth day of the week.

In association with prior discussion of cutting supplements from the budget, Ellis, the 2008 Butts County Teacher of the Year, who teaches at Jackson Elementary School, asked who now receives supplements. White explained that there are two kinds of supplements, local schedules assigned to teachers and supplements based on additional athletic and academic responsibilities. She stated that these supplements are used in computing the average daily salary which determines how much pay is deducted for each furlough day. She did not expound on any proposals to cut supplements.

Shana Chaney and Melissa Spain spoke of how they have made a practice of purchasing supplies for their classrooms, and for individual students who do not have what they need. They appealed to the Board of Education members not to cut the supplies and teacher salaries at the same time.

"I try to give my students whatever they need to be successful. Many bring nothing," said Spain. "We do it because we love our job and our children. But there is a breaking point."

Cabral and Rowland both spoke of how the school budget is a community issue and of how the entire Butts County community should be involved in finding solutions.

"Thanks to everyone for coming out," said Board Member Linda Godin, at the close of the public comment period. "If you don't tell us, we don't know."

"We have lost more than $6 million in funds from the state," said Battle. "What choice do we have but to raise our millage?"

The board then moved from public comment to other business.

White presented a contract with West Georgia Workforce Development Corporation to provide a youth work crew to the school system from June 1 to July 31, and the board approved it unanimously. West Georgia Workforce Development will pay the full minimum wage salaries and also provide the worker's compensation insurance required.

The workers will be 18 to 21 years old and will be under the supervision of the maintenance department. They will be moving Rainbow Center Pre-kindergarten from its North Mulberry facility to Daughtry Elementary School, relocating certain records to the Central Office, and will also help move furnishings from North Mulberry Academy.

The summer school schedule has been revised so that there will be no classes on Fridays at any of the schools. The savings will be approximately $35,000.

Another change was proposed in the school system's transportation plan. Under the proposal, buses would transport all students, kindergarten through 12th-grade, together, rather than kindergarten through fifth-grade and sixth- through 12th-grade on separate buses as they have for the past few years.

All bus drivers would return to a four-hour day. The plan would include three additional drivers and five monitors but no additional buses. A seating system for students on buses would be put in place, and monitors would move from route to route. The change was estimated to save $200,000 per year. The plan was proposed but died for lack of a second to the motion. The board then voted to table the motion and reconsider it later.