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Called meeting announced to offer contracts

A view of the money-saving cuts scheduled for the local school system should become clearer with a called board meeting on the morning of March 17.

Superintendent Whit Myers said the Tuesday 8 a.m. meeting will be to offer administrators and teachers contracts.

Myers said the board now plans to eliminate one less position than announced last month. The superintendent said the budget will be reduced by 28 and a half positions. Myers said the board had a change of mind on one position at the middle school.

“It was to 29 and a half, but we thought we had cut too deep there,” Myers said.

Although the reduction is one less position, Myers said the board still expects to cut the necessary $2 million for the 2009-2010 budget.

Currently, as many as three tenured educators whose positions will not be renewed may request public hearings to keep their jobs, Myers said. If the school board decides to retain any of those teachers who go through public hearings, other education positions must be eliminated so the cuts are $2 million.

“It is a big deal and it is open to the public,” Myers said. “If I were a teacher, I don’t think I would want to go through with it.”

The public hearings, projected to occur within the next four weeks, will resemble a courtroom setting, Myers said.

The school board will have its attorney. The educator can have an attorney and another attorney will serve in a “judge” capacity. Witnesses can be called to testify and the educator’s career is discussed in public.

Myers said the school board will listen to the evidence much like a jury. The board members then will go into executive session and return to public session to render its decision.

“It is very much like a court of law and it is very open,” Myers said.

While a reduction in force remains in effect, Myers said federal stimulus funds will create three instructor/coach positions. Without the stimulus boost, Myers said the position cuts instead would be 31 and a half.

Five of the position reductions are administrators. That will be a 26 percent decrease in administration.

One of the instructor/coaches will be at the elementary school. Another instructor also will be stationed at SCES, but will work throughout the school system. The third coach will instruct in the middle and high schools.

“They will be based at the schools and their total, complete job is teacher support,” Myers said. “The new positions fit perfectly with the criteria as set forth by the feds for use of the stimulus money.

“I am confident that our plan is good for the school system while satisfying the federal requirements,” he said. “The positions will provide much needed additional instructional coach services to our teachers in the areas of instructional technology, RTI, and behavior interventions. There will be no administrative duties connected to these positions.

In a mass e-mail to faculty and staff Tuesday afternoon, Myers said he believed “we had a good meeting” Monday evening.

“Contracts for teachers and administrators were not approved last night,” Myers wrote, “but we were able to put the finishing touches on our reduction in force plan.

“We do plan to get contracts out to you before spring vacation,” he said.

Myers said to access that money now an application must be completed for those funds, designating their use for school improvement initiatives. 

“In other words, without a federal waiver, we cannot just use the stimulus funds to pay regular classroom teachers when those positions had been paid for with state and/or local funds,” he said. “The feds refer to this as supplementing rather than supplanting.

The superintendent said the money has to be used for something new that is designed to improve teacher quality and/or student achievement. 

Please let me stress that we are not out of the woods on the budget as of yet,” Myers said. “Based on current projections we are still about $350,000 away from balancing our budget for next year and we project our cash balance going into the new year to be so low that we could have to borrow money in the fall. 

“However, I think we have cut all of the teaching positions we can afford to cut and still maintain our instructional program,” he said. “If teaching vacancies occur, we will look at those very carefully before filling them. Additionally, you should expect other budget cuts to now come from areas of the budget other than classroom teaching and administrative positions.

“We are still dealing with a three-ring circus in Atlanta with the legislature, the governor, and the Department of Education,” Myers said. “The legislature and governor are still trying to come to agreement on a budget plan for the rest of this year and the DOE continues to raise student achievement expectations for all of us. The projections for the new state budget, which begin July 1, continue to worsen.”

Myers said the legislature will finish their work April 3. 

“We should then have some good budget numbers to work with to at least begin finalizing our local budget for next year,” he said. “Unfortunately, I will not be at all surprised to see additional state budget cuts if the economy continues to worsen.”