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BOE to set 3 more furlough days

Decatur County Board of Education employees will have to take three more unpaid days off this school year to satisfy an additional 6 percent to 8 percent budget cut ordered by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue last Friday.

The Decatur County Board of Education voted 4-2 for employees to take the three furlough days to offset the equivalent monies being cut from the state’s funding of local school boards’ budgets.

For Decatur County schools, those cuts represent $367,673, according to school system’s Chief Financial Officer Tim Matthews.

School officials met all day Friday discussing when employees would take the furlough days between now and the end of May, but as of 4 p.m., no decision had been made. As a condition of Thursday’s vote, all staff members will get the opportunity to vote on which days they will take off as a group.

Board Members Winston Rollins and Clarissa Kendrick voted against employees taking the furlough days.

County School Superintendent Ralph Jones had previously said that taking the additional furlough days—on top of three which have already been taken this school year—was the only feasible solution to come up with the money Perdue ordered cut.

Perdue ordered the cuts a week after the Georgia Department of Revenue announced that net revenue collections for December 2009 were down 5.9 percent when compared with December 2008.

According to State Sen. John Bulloch (D-Ochlocknee), Perdue had been counting on declining revenue of no more than 3.5 percent to avoid further state budget cuts. When told of media reports of Perdue’s decisions to order more cuts, Superintendent Jones said local school officials had been expecting the cuts and said the furloughs would inevitably follow.

“There’s nowhere else to pull from [to offset the cuts],” Jones said. “There are no pools of money we have laying around to use.”

Jones said he believed the state budget cuts have begun to affect the quality of classroom education. Just to make ends meet for this school year, the school board had to increase class sizes, he said. Smaller class sizes are proven to enhance students’ learning, so getting away from that is a bad thing, he said.

The impact of budget cuts

Looking to the future, Jones was optimistic that revenue declines are beginning to level off and that further cuts to the state’s 2010-2011 fiscal year budget may not be needed.

However, there is still the question of what local school boards around the state will have to do to fund positions currently being paid for with money from the U.S. government’s 2009 economic stimulus package. Generally, the teachers and staff who were put into stimulus-funded positions, instead of the school system’s general budget, were among the most-qualified and experienced in the school system, Jones said.

“It becomes a problem for our human resources department if that money goes away,” Jones said. “If we had to have a reduction in staff, what priorities and policies would we have to use?”

Jones said the impact of the economic recession, which began in 2008 that some economists say has ended, has been crushing on local schools.

“We thought coming up with our budget two years ago was rough,” Jones said. “This has been a big whammy. We don’t see any way school systems can continue to absorb these cuts without having to cut educational programs and personnel.”

Jones said the school system has already frozen all new hires. When a position has opened up, the system has tried to hire substitute teachers or consolidate positions by asking teachers to take on an additional class on top of their regular workload. More than 30 positions had been cut from the budget this past year, utilizing attrition and early retirement, according to Jones.