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Heatley: District needs to cut $49 million

Clayton County Public Schools may have to cut its school year 37 days, and make the school day two hours longer, to help make up for a projected deficit that could reach $49.2 million 2013, the school system's superintendent said Monday.

Superintendent Edmond Heatley told the Board of Education that the school system will have to take several actions to ward off the projected shortfall. He said the deficit will steadily increase, if no cuts are made, beginning at $4.8 million in June (when fiscal year 2011 ends), and growing to $27 million at the end of fiscal year 2012, and to $49.2 million a year later.

Needed steps, he said, range from small cuts, such as reducing school board meeting security costs ($3,617 per year) and eliminating meals for school board members ($20,340 per year), to larger cuts, such as cutting 46 consultative teacher positions ($3 million per year.)

One of the most eye-popping budget-reduction recommendations, however, was to extend the length of the school day, and cut the number of days in the school year. The move would save a projected $1.26 million per year, according to Heatley.

"What we would do in that case, and I know this is unique, but we still have the number of instructional minutes, but we would be able to shave 37 days [off the school year calendar]," Heatley said. He later added, "It's something we would like to research, to see if we can pull it off."

The full list of Heatley's recommended cuts is expected to be posted on the school system's web site –– www.clayton.k12.ga.us/ –– today. He added that the school system will accept recommendations for other possible cuts from school board members, school system employees, and members of the general public.

Heatley said the school district is planing to make cuts after reviewing "federal budget deficits, the unemployment rate, looking at our tax revenues being down in the state, what the new administration ... who just came in with their own ideas, and again, our local tax base ..."

While the amount of annual savings the district would see from changing the lengths of the school day and school year is not as big as other possible cuts, it's potential impact on the school calendar is significant. Under some possible scenarios, a September date for the first day of school is possible, according to Heatley.

"We've got 14 different [potential] school year calendars we're looking at," he said. "A couple of them start after Labor Day [in September]."

There will be some recommendations, however, that affect the classroom, such as delaying the purchases of new textbooks. Heatley's budget presentation shows that will save the district $2.4 million this spring, and another $2.8 million in fiscal year 2012.

Other potential cuts include reducing the elementary school counseling program 18 positions (a $1.65 million per year savings), or eliminating it all together (a $3.7 million annual savings).

The academic cut that is getting the most attention from school board members, so far, is recommendations to either, reduce, or eliminate art and music classes in the county's elementary schools, as well as reduce the physical education program in the elementary schools.

Reducing the number of elementary art teacher positions 18 would save the district $1.1 million per year, while eliminating the program all together would generate an annual savings of $2.15 million. Reducing the number of elementary music teacher positions 18 spots would save the district $1.28 million per year, while eliminating the program all together would generate an annual savings of $2.48 million.

Heatley said James A. Jackson Elementary School, which houses an elementary school fine arts magnet program, will be the only school exempt from fine arts cuts.

Reducing the elementary school physical education program 18 positions, is projected to save the district $1.79 million per year.

The recommendations for cuts to physical education and fine arts were met with some resistance from school board members, who seemed reluctant to cut back on what elementary school students are currently getting. School Board Member Jessie Goree said the district should "educate the whole child," arguing that students already do not get enough exposure to physical-education activities.

She said she does not even want to see the word "eliminate" next to proposed cuts to the elementary school fine arts programs. "In the high schools, you can do that, because you have an idea that time what the kids want to go into," Goree said. "In the elementary schools, we need to expose the kids to everything."

In all, the superintendent introduced $75.1 million in possible cuts, in what is really just a first draft of a budget-reduction plan. School System Spokesman Charles White stressed that the list is not set in stone.