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Heatley, BOE spar over jobs funds

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley announced this week that he wants to use $9.3 million in federal money -- meant to save teacher jobs -- to extend educators' work year by five days, while also requiring mandatory professional development.

The money is part of a $26 billion federal jobs bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in August. The bill included $10 billion to be used to support approximately 160,000 education jobs across the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education's web site.

Heatley told members of the Clayton County Board of Education on Monday the federal money only can be spent to save, or create positions, including classroom teacher slots, that provide assistance directly to children, or to school-level sites.

He is proposing that the board use the money to extend employees' work year by five days, to make up for the five days cut from the district's 2010-2011 school year calendar, to help cut district expenses. The caveat is, educators would have to do work on those five restored days, likely by attending professional development sessions offered by the district, the superintendent said.

"My recommendation is ... to not just give that money back," Heatley said. "It is to tie it to professional development, and/or extend the work year by five days. If you just give that money away, it is nothing more than a bonus, and the system we have, has failed to do what the money was for. The funding was to save jobs, and/ or create jobs. If you just give the bonus, you didn't save anything."

The school board is scheduled to vote on Heatley's recommendation Dec. 6.

Heatley actually presented the board with three options for using the money:

"Plan A," which is to use all $9.3 million to save 175 jobs in the school system, and reduce an anticipated shortfall in the district's fiscal year 2012 budget from $35 million, to $26 million.

"Plan B" -- the plan recommended by Heatley -- in which employees would get the five days back, but spend those days working. It would reduce the anticipated shortfall to $33 million, he said. "By requiring additional work days, or professional development, you do two things," Heatley said. "You did save the job because you extended the work year, and you gave back some compensation, but professional development is desperately needed by the superintendent and everyone else in this system, to make this system the best in the state of Georgia."

"Plan C," which is a mixture of the first two options. Teachers would get three days added back to their work year, and the remaining money would be used to save an unspecified number of positions in the district's next budget. This would reduce the anticipated shortfall to $30 million, Heatley said.

Heatley's proposals resulted in more than half an hour of debate by board members over whether teachers should have to do any extra work to get paid for five extra days during this school year.

School Board Members Jessie Goree and Trinia Garrett opposed forcing teachers into professional development programs, to gain back the five days of pay. "Do you think it's fair that they have to go back to work, to make them go back and work for something that is not their fault in the first place?" Garrett asked Heatley. "I'm not saying they probably wouldn't want to do professional development, but it's not right to say they have to do that to get their money."

Heatley's response to Garrett's was, "Because they have to earn it." The reply drew gasps from educators and parents sitting in the audience.

School Board Member Charlton Bivins said he was not opposed to the Heatley's proposal. "I would prefer that my child's teacher is there, rather than not doing anything to become a better educator," Bivins said. "If we can get our teachers in the classroom, themselves, then, I think that's the best route for us to take."

After the board wrapped up its conversation on Heatley's recommendation, several employees got up and walked out. One mumbled, "We want our money" as the group emptied into the lobby.

Many employees declined to comment, on the record, about the superintendent's plans, or the school board's discussion. They said they were afraid of retaliation from district administrators.

Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman said he was pleased that educators will, at least, be getting more money during the current school year. "It's better than not getting paid," he said.

Chapman called the superintendent's recommendation a "compromise." Heatley told school board members that he had met with Chapman, to give the local educators' group some input in the decision. He said CCEA was the only educators' group he consulted.

"It would have been nice if they didn't have to make up the days," "Chapman said. "But, I think it's a fair compromise. We wanted something where they got the five days back."