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Shortened school day for students starts Tuesday

The changes that will evolve Tuesday may seem to some people like its the beginning of new school year all over again.
The actual start of the school year began Aug. 3 with the school board slicing off almost $2.7 million – including 22 educators’ jobs -- from its budget to handle the reduction in state funding. Then before the ink was dry on the school board’s approved budget, the state urged school districts to furlough teachers three days and reduction their budgets another time – this time by 3 percent.
On Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day holiday, the students’ days in school will be shortened by 30 minutes as part of a cost-savings plan that also involves the elimination of two bus routes.
“This will help us get closer,” said Superintendent Whit Myers of the school system’s effort to save enough to meet the 3 percent state reduction requirement.
When the school session begins after the holiday, the elementary, middle and high schools will also start its day at the new time of 8:10 a.m. and finish up 15 minutes earlier than they did the Friday before.
SCES will conclude its day at 2:15 p.m.; SCMS at 2:45 p.m.; and SCHS at 3:02 p.m.
The teachers will stay later for planning time. The new educator work day will run from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
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.
The shortened day for students also would allow for shifting more professional learning to the new block of teacher planning time in the afternoon.
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.
All of the various components are expected to create the cost savings needed by the state. The local budget approved by the school board July 31 for the 2009-2010 year must be cut by at least $435,000.
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 will be done during the process of supply buying, Myers said.
“The September payroll is the first big payroll of the year,” Myers said. “We will have a real good idea of where we stand for the rest of the year after that.”
Each of the schools will send home a letter to parents with a school-specific explanation of the reduction of 30 minutes a day.
“I think we are gearing up for it and have made changes for the transition,” said Myers, adding that the extra planning at the end of the day should prove beneficial. “Our teachers have been real troopers with filling in for substitutes, but it is beginning to wear on them.”
Myers said not having a substitute on the first day of a teacher’s absence has cut those expenses about in half through the first month of the school year. 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.
“I feel that the community understands what we are trying to do,” Myers said. “Everybody is working harder this year than ever.”
The superintendent said the teachers, administrators and staff all are “wearing more hats.”
“I really can’t see us putting much more on our people,” Myers said. “If we have another round of cuts, that would definitely cut into what we do during the school day and after school.”


High school makes schedule changes
Screven County High School principal Brett Warren said the school will make the change in the time schedule by reducing the time scheduled for announcements and taking some minutes from class periods and lunches.
Currently, morning announcements are packaged into a 16-minute session. With the new schedule, the announcements, if necessary, will be made at the conclusion of first and sixth periods.
The classes will be reduced by a few minutes each down to 50 minutes. Warren said cutting into class time any more would require a state waiver for going below the mandated class length. He said neither he nor staff wanted to lose any more minutes of educational time.
Time between classes will be five to six minutes for students to get to their next classroom.
Warren said athletics, band and other extracurricular activities will move up their start times along with the earlier end to the school day.
At the high school, seniors on track for graduation can, if the necessary hours have been earned, opt out of either first period to begin the day or seventh at the end.
“The students who get here after first period won’t have the announcement time cushion,” said Warren, who will have redo the bell schedule to accommodate the time change.
Teachers, Warren said, will be at the school until 3:45 p.m.
“It is like adding an extra period for planning,” Warren said. “It gives you more time in the afternoon to make up for the lost time, especially if you lost your planning period covering for no substitute.”


Middle school shortens its day
Jim Thompson, the middle school principal, said the school was able to make the switch by taking time off the classes.
“We cut about five minutes off of our six periods and that gave us the 30 minutes,” Thompson said.
At SCMS, mathematics and languages arts classes were double blocked for 110 minutes each and as of Sept. 8, the classes instead will be 100 minutes long. Thompson said science and social studies classes will be 50 rather than 55 minutes.
“I think teachers don’t see any major problems coming with it and I don’t see any major problems coming with it,” Thompson said.
The additional time at the end of the day will be helpful, he said.
“Teachers working together and having time for professional learning will be good,” Thompson said.
And the possibility of a reduction in student tardies also is a plus.
“We have a few students who are five or 10 minutes late so we hope the start change will help. I feel this will help with that,” Thompson said.


Elementary school makes its changes
Screven County Elementary School principal Becky Martin took into account the possibility of a shorting of time in the school day when she and SCES staff created the school’s schedule before the first day of school. So when the new change was applied, the SCES enrichment and lunch schedule will remain at the same times.
She said the only change students should really see will be the time difference in the mornings and afternoons.
The state mandates that elementary school teachers have 30 minutes of duty-free lunch, but because of earlier cutbacks other school staff watching the children during lunch was eliminated. The educators now must eat lunch with their classes.
The school day for teachers concludes at 3:45 p.m., but if an educator has not received the mandatory 30-minute, duty-free time, they instead can leave at 3:15 p.m.
“Having administrators and teachers eating with the students right now and I’ve enjoyed that actually. It has been nice.
The elementary school does not have the ringing of bells for students to go to another class, but the third, fourth and fifth graders do study subjects with other teachers. Martin said those teachers in reading and math will “shave off” some minutes in their learning sessions to make the time change work.
“We will be making use of this for staff development and tutoring,” said Martin of the time at the conclusion of the school day. “We are geared up and ready for the change.”
One question that will not be answered until after Labor Day, however, is when parents will drop students off at school, Martin said. The start time will have changed, but parents’ work schedule and other responsibilities may not.
“Right now we have some students dropped off at 7 or 7:10 (a.m.),” said Martin, who added that pick up also is very important. “If your child is a car rider, please come at 2:15 instead of 2:30.”
Martin also said the school does have an after-school PASE program that is available for students. To find out more about PASE, contact the school.


More cuts possible and new school calendar possibilities
With all the alterations done by Screven County school officials, four months from now more changes may be necessary if the state decrees additional mandatory cuts.
“We have to watch the state revenues,” said Myers of more reductions possible in January. “If the state budget picture doesn’t improve, the legislature may decide to do more furloughs and make more cuts.
“We still haven’t heard anything for January. It all is going to depend on what the revenues do,” Myers said.
The local 2009-2010 school year shows a decrease in enrollment for a 12th consecutive year, which automatically translates into less state funding for Screven County.
The superintendent said he and administrators already have reviewed what could be cut from the budget if the state mandates another reduction in 2010.
“They are not at all pretty,” Myers said of the considerations. “At this point, we aren’t cutting fat. We are cutting meat. We are cutting good lean, viable programs.”
Tuesday marks the latest in a line of tweaks to the Screven County School calendar. The 2010-2011 calendar, however, could be any form of a list of various calendar selections.
“At this time, almost anything is possible,” Myers said. “Our board did see some merit in what Murray County was doing.”
This year’s Murray County school calendar is one that starts after Labor Day, but actually ends before the last scheduled day of school for Screven County schools, May 28. With state lawmakers’ approval of the public school year based on hours and not the traditional 180 days, Murray County officials chose to add about 45 minutes to each school day to shorten its school system year.
“We are trying to get some more information from Murray County, but they haven’t started school yet,” Myers said.
Another calendar style is one that Peach County has put into use this year as officials there have gone to a four-day week with school being an hour longer each day than its 2008-2009 calendar.
But if Georgia’s overall financial picture does not get any better, a part of the school calendar decision could be made by legislators in Atlanta.
“The school year could be shortened by 10 days for teachers and students,” said Myers of a suggestion being discussed by lawmakers. “If the state decides to whack off 10 days, that would be a huge budget reduction for the state.”