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Clayton school approves $335.83 million budget

The Clayton County Board of Education approved the school district’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, on Monday, after weeks of deliberations, public hearings and exhaustive efforts to cut costs.

With School Superintendent Edmond Heatley’s recommendation, board members voted 6-3 to approve the $335.83 million budget for the next school year. Board members Jessie Goree and Trinia Garrett and Michael King voted against the budget.

The approval of the budget means teacher salaries will stay the same, which has been a super-charged, emotional topic for members of the community during budget hearings, as many residents took turns telling the board members their concerns. Many said teachers were bearing an unfair portion of the burden of balancing the school system’s budget.

In previous statements, BOE chairperson Pam Adamson acknowledged those concerns, but said, due to the economy, the board just did not have the money to provide raises for teachers.

According to Sid Chapman of the Clayton County Education Association, teachers have not received a pay raise in five years. He said the board of education is being deceitful when it comes to how teachers are being paid in the county.

“You have the money that state gives and the district has to pay the rest of the money,” Chapman said in a previous statement. “What the board has done was reduce the supplement so that pay has been the [same] for teacher for four years.” Chapman added that, with the reduction in the supplement, it’s almost like teachers are getting a pay cut.

Though she did not specify the exact dollar amount, Adamson said revenue increased slightly.

“It will give us some flexibility at the end of the year,” Adamson said. “We got more money than we thought and we will be able to go back and reinstate some things that we had to cut.”

She said she is hoping that money can be used to reduce the class sizes even more. Board members had earlier voiced strong concerns about average class sizes increasing by three students and the effect it would have on academic success. However, under the new budget, board members voted to only increase classroom sizes by two students, instead of three. Middle school sports and the arts program were saved, even though Heatley proposed to cut those programs, that he said would save the district $800,000. Also on the new budget, the school system will operate on a 175-day calendar (instead of 185) and classes with low attendance will be cut.

Adamson said in years past the budget has been worse. But this time around there were more positives than negatives.

“One thing I can say about this budget is we didn’t have as many teachers losing their jobs,” said Adamson.

Though board members approved the budget it did not come with out some confusion and debates. Goree said that certain parts of the budget troubled her, and she was concerned about where the emphasis will be placed, based on how the money is being spent.

“There’s no emphasis on student achievement,” said Goree. “If we are reducing staff how is it going to help student achievement?” She added the board voted to cut the Career Technical Agricultural Education (CTAE), which, according to Goree, is a state-mandated program for high school students. “I don’t see how we can cut this program when students need this to graduate,” she said. “The state required us not to cut CTAE program to balance budget.”

The board will meet again on July 30 to discuss the millage rate or (property tax), on whether it will increase or stay the same.