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School day gets shorter for students Sept. 8

Parents, if your children come home and tell you that their school year will be shortened after Labor Day, don’t immediately think they are attempting to slip one by you.
For very serious state-mandated budget reductions, an abbreviated school day for Screven County students will go into effect Sept. 8, the day after the scheduled holiday.
While the students’ school days will be cut by 30 minutes, the teachers’ time on campus will remain the same and a list of planned cost-cutting moves will help the system edge closer to the 3 percent reduction that all state public schools are creatively trying to absorb.
On Sept. 8, the elementary, middle and high schools will each adjust their student hours to begin at 8:10 a.m. The students’ day at the elementary school will conclude at 2:15 p.m., while the middle school’s day will end at 2:45 p.m., and the high school’s final bell will ring at 3:02 p.m.
The new teacher work day will run from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
The local budget that was approved by the local school board July 31 for the 2009-2010 year must be reduced by at least $435,000 to handle the most-recent cut.
With the help of a shortened school day for students, the school system expects to generate $400,800 in cuts in substitute reductions, elimination of summer instruction and professional learning, transportation cutbacks, removal of local dollars for competitive trips including athletics, and teacher and paraprofessional furloughs.
The remainder of the reductions to meet the $435,000 amount, Superintendent Whit Myers said, will be done in the process of buying of supplies.
“I believe we can make up the difference through very selective purchasing, some very high scrutiny of purchases,” Myers said Monday evening as board members unanimously approved the 30-minute reduction in the students’ school day.
Officials hope the later morning start for school days will, in turn, reduce the number of tardies. Officials also say that parents who take their children to school in the mornings before work should be able to keep relatively the same schedule because some staff members will be at school earlier than 7:45 a.m.
“We need to be a little more flexible on our work day with our staff,” Myers said. “We should be able to accommodate dropping off students in the morning.”
And more reductions are possible with the arrival of 2010. Additional cuts in state funds and additional furlough days for staff must be anticipated until the monthly state revenue figures begin to improve.
The 2009-2010 school year thus far shows a decrease in enrollment for the 12th consecutive year. That also translates into less state funding.
“The question is ‘How is all of this going to affect student performance?’” asked Lindy Sheppard, school board chairman. “When I went to elementary school, we went until 3 o’clock.”
Administrators say the shortened school day for students will allow the system to reduce substitute costs by having teachers cover for each other during their planning periods on the first day of an absence. At the elementary school, paraprofessionals will handle the responsibilities of the educator’s classroom.
Myers said he has read newspapers in neighboring counties and spoken with superintendents in other counties.
“Most school systems are cutting back in the use of substitutes,” Myers said.
With the students’ shortened day, 45 minutes to an hour will be available once the students leave campus for teacher planning. The teacher planning time after school will replace planning time lost because of covering classes instead of hiring substitutes and it will replace collaborative planning time at the middle and high schools that already had been lost through staff cuts.
During 2008-2009, the system spent $207,562 for substitutes. An average of 57 percent of all the teacher absences in 2008-2009 were one-day absences.
By not hiring a substitute for the first day of a teacher or paraprofessional absence, Myers said the system would save more than $118,310.
The shortened day for students also would allow for shifting more professional learning to the new block of teacher planning time in the afternoon.
Myers said the reduction in professional learning costs of $30,000, plus approximately $10,500 in substitute costs because of professional learning.
The shorter day for students also allows for cuts of all funds for summer instructional programs. The 45 minutes to an hour after students leave in the afternoon could be used for tutoring, remediation for the CRCT at the elementary and middle schools, and credit recovery at the high school.
A total of approximately $95,000 will be eliminated in summer instructional programs with about $89,500 attributed to staff costs and $6,000 for energy costs. The school system also partly funds summer instructional programs with Title I funds.
The day reduced by 30 minutes for students also is expected to help cut transportation costs without picking up students earlier in the morning or dropping them off later in the afternoon. The shortened day will provide for an additional 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon to get students to and from schools. Officials anticipate this will open up more possibilities to cut some bus routes.
As a result of more efficient bus routing and lower fuel costs, school officials say they hope to save approximately $80,000. Officials also will cut all athletic and other competitive trips for a savings of $52,000.
“We feel we can be more efficient with routes and be able to reduce the number of routes,” Myers said.
Fewer routes reduce the number of drivers’ salaries and the necessity of school bus replacements.
Myers said the school system will receive a local savings of $25,000 from the three day furloughs for staff members. Teachers had their first two furlough days during preplanning on July 27 and July 28. The educators have their third furlough day set for Dec. 18 which was scheduled as a teacher work day to prepare students’ grades.
Paraprofessionals’ furlough days also were July 27 and 28, but they instead took July 29 as their third furlough day.