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Board votes to cut supplements, furlough employees

Unless the economy drastically improves all employees of the Grady County School System will feel the budget crunch in their paychecks next school term.
Tuesday night the board of education wrapped up its months long discussion of the system’s financial position and moved forward with a budget plan that includes a $1,000 maximum reduction in local supplements for all certified personnel and up to three days furlough for non-certified personnel.
In addition, administrative personnel with 12 month contracts will be furloughed two days and administrative personnel with 11 month contracts will be furloughed one day.
According to Finance Officer Dan Broome, this equates to basically a two percent pay cut for all certified personnel.
“It is not an exact percentage, but it is close. For some employees, based on a variety of factors, the cut may be as high as 2.1 percent, but they are all in the neighborhood of two percent. We’re talking hundredths of a percent here,” Broome said.
“We’ve got to make a decision,” Board chairman Teresa Gee Harris said as she endorsed the combination of supplement cuts and administrative furloughs. She warned against punishing the non-certified employees who are at the lowest end of the pay scale, but noted she was comfortable with the plan of not furloughing those employees more than three days.
“Hopefully it will be less,” Mrs. Harris said.
The board chairman added, “We give raises based on percentages and we should cut by percentage. Either way some people are not going to be happy, but we’ve been going over this for months.”
Board member Drew Pyrz asked Broome if the money that would normally be paid out in supplements could be put in a restricted account so that at the end of the next fiscal year it would be available to pay out if funds are available. “Sure we can, but I’d like to think about exactly how I would do it,” Broome replied.
“Make sure we track it and keep it separate,” cautioned Chairman Harris.
Pyrz warned that if the budget cuts the board has approved are sufficient to balance the school system’s books and there is adequate money to fully fund the supplements it would be easy for the money to get “lost” in the general fund and spent.
“Let’s monitor it like we do the SPLOST and bond money,” Pyrz commented.
School officials are hopeful that the full supplement will be paid out before the end of the next fiscal year, but are making preparations for the possibility of further state cuts to public school funding.
“We’re all hoping for the best, but planning for the worst,” Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis said.
The superintendent expressed his opinion that the employees of the school system deserved to know what the possible cuts would be so that they could plan accordingly next school term.
The reduction in supplement will be reflected in the contracts offered for the next school year, according to Broome, but if the funds are available prior to the end of 2009-2010 and the board authorizes payment of the full supplements the contracts would have to be amended he told board members Tuesday night.
The plan to cut supplements and furlough employees is just one part of a multi-pronged approach to cut expenses in the next fiscal year.
Combined with lower personnel costs through these cuts combined with attrition, reorganization of personnel and programs and a proposed reduction in force the board will also realize savings through lower transportation and energy costs and line item cuts to the budget.
All combined the board is looking at approximately $1.4 million in cuts to annual expenses.
Tuesday night the board also adopted a revised reduction in force policy and Superintendent Pharis is recommending the board put the policy to work in the next fiscal year.
Because of the lack of funding and lower enrollment in the county’s public schools Pharis is looking to reorganize the school system through a small reduction in force.
In accordance with the policy adopted this week, Pharis is proposing cuts to the number of physical education positions by a minimum of three. He anticipates two of these will be gained through attrition.
Any reductions in force will be based on the employee’s documented job performance, in addition to the superintendent’s observation and knowledge.
After the cuts are made the remaining PE instructors may be reassigned among schools to ensure instructional needs and maximum class size requirements are met, according to the superintendent.
Currently 16.5 PE instructors are employed by the school system with the school-by-school breakdown being Shiver – 2; Whigham – 1 1/2; Eastside – 2; Southside – 2; Washington Middle School – 3; and Cairo High School – 6.
Pharis is also advocating a reorganization of administrative staff. The school system currently earns state funding for 6.86 assistant principals, but the system employees 9.5. The superintendent plans on reducing that number by a minimum of two, one of which will be gained through attrition.
After the reduction in force, just as with the PE instructors, the remaining assistant principals may be reassigned.
Even the superintendent is not immune to the cuts. Following a closed door session Tuesday the board voted unanimously to approve a new two year contract for Dr. Pharis that reflects a two percent cut in salary, just like all other certified personnel.
In Pharis’ case his actual cut will be $2,800.
“I’ve said all along that everyone in the school system would feel the pain of these budget cuts and I’m no different,” Dr. Pharis said.
Pharis briefed board members that he would be attending meetings Wednesday and Thursday regarding state funding for public schools and as the board moves forward with its 2009-2010 budget preparations the budget plan approved Tuesday night would be used as a guide.
“We have this plan to go by, but we all realize that adjustments will be made as needed as we go along,” Pharis said.

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