Photo by Heather Middleton
By Jeylin White
The room was packed and emotions were running high as members of the community took turns telling the Clayton Count Board of Education their concerns about the school district's proposed, fiscal year 2012 budget.
During budget hearings Tuesday, the hottest topic seemed to be teacher salaries, and concerns from residents that teachers might be bearing an unfair portion of the burden of balancing the school system's $339 million budget. "We know the teachers want a pay raise, and we want to give them a raise." said School Board Chairperson Pam Adamson. "But, we can't afford to do it right now, due to the economy."
Members of the community also raised questions about a $1.4 million contract with the Clayton County Sheriff's Office to provide security officers at schools, and a rumored $30,000 raise that Superintendent Edmond Heatley allegedly received, even as other school employees took hits to their pay through furlough days.
The school system's chief financial officer, Denise Thompson, spoke up, however, saying there is "a major miscommunication" when it comes to issues concerning the budget. "I think, first of all, people are just going on assumptions, as opposed to what is being set out," she said. "And I think some of it is being intentionally done."
She said, emphatically, that Heatley did not receive a pay increase, and has not received a raise in the last 3 years.
Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association, said one of the problems, and the reason for much of the concern is the board has not done a good job of explaining the budget. He said, if you look closely at teachers' contracts, what teachers were making this year is less than last year, because they are working fewer days. "We only have 185 [days]," he said, "so, we're making less. They're [the school district is] even backing out on some of the supplements, which they have the right to do, but they're not being forth-coming about the teacher salaries as they should."
Chapman added that he thinks the board should do a forensic audit, and make sure all the funds are going where they are supposed to go.
Superintendent Heatley responded to questions about the contract with the Sheriff's Office, saying the contract was not a secret, and that the board was aware of it. "We wanted more security at the high schools, as well as the middle schools," he said. "And this year, we wanted one organization to do it all."
As far as teacher salaries are concerned, Heatley said he realized the situation is emotional, and that it was emotional for the board. He added that everyone got five furlough days, and everyone lost the same number of days.
"But we did that so we could save 68 teacher positions," he said.
Following the budget hearing, the board held it's regular business meeting, and more community members addressed concerns about a perceived lack of concern for teachers, and the community, on the part of Heatley and the board.
And again, concerns were raised about the contract between the school system and the Sheriff's Office. One resident said that the officers assigned to the schools were never trained properly, and that the contract was never approved by the board.
Board Chairperson Adamson said the contract with the sheriff's department does not necessarily have to be approved by the board. "The contract has been approved every year by the superintendent, and it's the same for this year," she said.
In other business, the board heard, and approved, reports on purchasing, finances, SPLOST revenue, construction, and approved personnel actions that appointed athletic directors to several high schools, appointed new directors of transportation, special education, a SPLOST administrator, and principals for Morrow and Mt. Zion high schools.
The final adoption of the 2012 budget is scheduled for Monday, June 27, at 6 p.m., at the Clayton County Public Schools Administration Complex, in Jonesboro.