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Clayton Schools may 're-coup' Ed Jobs money

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley offered the county's school board an opportunity, on Monday, to save elementary arts, music, and counseling programs from facing the sting of budget cuts. But, at a cost to every employee of the school system.

The cost would be $6.25 million in education jobs money that school employees received in December, from the district's share of the federal government's $26 billion jobs bill, that became law last year.

Heatley is asking the school board to consider "re-couping" the money from the employees, including school board members, to keep several elementary school programs fully intact.

Last month, the superintendent offered the complete elimination of elementary arts, music and counseling programs, or possibly just cutting the number of educators in those programs in half, as options to help the district cut $49 million over the next two fiscal years.

Then, the recommendation became simply cutting the programs in half earlier this month.

Now, the head of the school system is offering the possibility of not cutting those programs at all –– if the education jobs money is retrieved.

"If the board would be inclined to allow the district to re-coup those funds, we would have the ability to save the elementary counseling program as it currently is, the elementary music program as it currently is, and the elementary art program as it currently is," Heatley said.

It was nearly four months ago that the school board voted in favor of giving money from the district's share of the federal education money to school employees, with the caveat that employees, in turn, would participate in five days of professional development programs.

The education jobs money made up $10 billion of the $26 billion included in the federal jobs bill, and $9.3 million of the money came to Clayton County Schools.

The school board is scheduled to vote on final adoption of the district's budget-reduction plan on April 12, according to a PowerPoint from Heatley's presentation on Monday.

The superintendent said the money that would be re-couped was for any professional development days employees had not already taken. He also said the money would be reclaimed over a period of time, rather than in a lump sum.

"We ... understand that to give such a check, at one time, may create a hardship, so I would also propose to the board that we allow employees 12 months to make this re-payment," Heatley said. "Now, I'm not going to say, ‘Write us a check.' It would come out of their salaries over 12 months."

Some of the other reductions on the table, include: Reducing consultative teachers 46 positions ($6 million); delaying textbook purchases in fiscal year 2012 ($2.8 million); reducing utility costs ($2.7 million); switching to a virtual alternative education program ($2.6 million); cutting 12 high school assistant principal positions ($2.3 million); eliminating school shuttle bus services in the district ($1.9 million); eliminating the elementary school In-School Suspension program ($1.6 million); cutting six middle school assistant principal positions ($1.1 million), and reducing the school system's transportation department budget $1 million.

Heatley said he looked at options on how to keep the elementary arts, music and counseling programs intact, after board members publicly voiced their support of those programs at a board meeting earlier this month. "I believe I heard the board loud and clear ... that these programs were important, that they were important for our students, and for our school district, so we tried to figure out how to get those programs back," Heatley said.

But, re-couping the education jobs money alone will not cover all of the savings that the district would have seen from cutting the three elementary programs in half. Halving those programs would have saved $8.09 million, according to the budget-reduction plan approved the school board on March 7.

Recouping the education jobs money would only produce $6.25 million, according to Heatley, meaning it would come up $1.85 million short of covering the costs of fully re-instating the elementary arts, music and counseling programs. School System Spokesman Charles White said new cuts are being made in other areas, to cover the full cost of keeping those programs.

One new area of cuts is the nutrition department, where the school system will make a total of $2 million worth of cuts over the next two years. Among those cuts would be the elimination of 36 elementary school assistant manager positions ($1.07 million savings over two years), increasing meals per labor hour from 14, to 16 ($350,494); reducing employee benefits ($139,354), reducing the number of itinerant nutrition workers in area schools clusters, from 5, to 3 ($122,048), and eliminating free meals to custodians and school nutrition personnel ($111,126).

The school system is also now going to eliminate 50 bus driver positions, as opposed to the 10 positions that had been recommended earlier this month. Cutting 50 positions, which Heatley said will all be vacant positions, will save the district $1.89 million, as opposed to the $378,776 that cutting only 10 positions would have saved.

Some board members told Heatley they were "in shock" over the superintendent's request to reclaim the federal money from employees, but some also symbolically offered to write out checks to the district, for their part of the money.

"I will give you mine right now, if it will save one arts teacher," said board member, Mary Baker.

A dozen elementary music teachers attended Monday night's meeting to see what came out of Heatley's budget presentation. One music teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, out of concern she might violate school board policy talking to a reporter, called it "very sobering," but she added that she was willing to give up her education jobs money to ensure she and other music and art teachers keep their jobs.

"In a heartbeat," she said. "Because the superintendent said that would save the arts, music and counseling programs."