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School officials brace for more state cuts

The Grady County superintendent of schools says teacher morale is extremely low in light of additional state cuts to public education, but he remains confident the quality of instruction will not be diminished.
Dr. Tommy Pharis and superintendents across the state have been scrambling to gain an understanding of the impact of additional budget cuts and Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposed new budget on the state’s public education system.
Gov. Perdue announced last week that additional cuts to local systems in the current fiscal year will require the much anticipated three additional furlough days for Georgia’s educators.
If that were not enough, according to Pharis, the local school board will also be cut an additional one percent for the amended formula adjustment which equals $190,000.
“That’s a big chunk of change. We are in the middle of the school year and most budgets are already obligated, or if not, they are very close to being obligated. Our personnel is set. I am opposed to any mid-year reduction in force for several reasons. First, the impact it would have on the school organization. Secondly, the safety factor of schools with fewer adults on the campus. But more importantly, the human factor of a reduction in force. I am not ready to consider releasing people who are doing a good job,” Dr. Pharis said.
To make up the additional $190,000 in additional cuts Dr. Pharis says it would take a reduction of six or seven teaching positions to achieve sufficient savings to offset the reduced revenue.
The superintendent says it sounds easy to cut six or seven positions until those cuts negatively impact school programs and class sizes.
“Everyone has a different opinion of what should be cut, but they never want their pet program cut. Right now we are operating pretty bare,” Dr. Pharis said.
With this latest round of furloughs 12-month certified personnel will lose a total of eight days pay plus a loss of $1,000 in local supplement; 11-month certified personnel will lose seven days of pay plus $1,000 in local supplement; classroom teachers and other 190-day certified personnel will lose a total of six days pay and between $800 and $1,000 in local supplement depending on their years of experience.
The school board built the system’s current fiscal year budget based on six days of furloughs for all non-certified staff members and Dr. Pharis is opposed to furloughing those employees any additional days.
“These are people we need in our schools, but don’t make a whole lot of money. There is no point in cutting them anymore,” the superintendent said.
For every day all non-certified personnel are furloughed the budget impact is an estimated $17,000 a day, but when certified teachers are furloughed the impact is $101,000 per day.
Pharis says he does not yet have a recommendation for the board as how to address the mid-year cuts, but he is not ruling out dipping into the system’s approximately $1 million in cash reserves.
The school board already dipped into reserves in the last fiscal year to the tune of $750,000 to balance the system’s books and Pharis admits the system cannot continue down that path.
“We don’t want to use reserves, but reserves are for emergencies like these. It is counterproductive to release people who are doing a good job at this point in the school year,” he said.
Superintendent Pharis and other superintendents across the state are not certain what the next fiscal year’s budget impact will be.
“We have been told there will be additional austerity cuts next fiscal year, but I can’t say what percent that equals. What I can tell you is that for every one percent in austerity cuts, Grady County loses roughly $190,000. I hope to know very quickly what the cuts mean for Grady County,” Pharis said.
To ease the blow Gov. Perdue, according to Pharis, will release more federal stimulus dollars in the next fiscal year that the state has been holding.
However, the biggest concerns for Pharis and other state school leaders is the following fiscal year, FY2011-2012 when the stimulus money has all been spent.
“We already have 17 teaching positions that would be gone today if not for the stimulus money. After next year that money will be gone,” Pharis warns.
Dr. Pharis says the board will address the 2010-2011 budget as it did during the current year and maintain a hiring freeze, but the superintendent is not convinced that normal attrition will cover the anticipated losses in state funding.
School officials are doing all they can to boost teacher morale and are hopeful the additional furlough days will not eat up all of the teachers’ planning days at the end of the school year. Pharis said different options are under consideration.
“When businesses cut staff or furlough employees it is usually because there is less work to do because of a lack of business. In the case of teachers, we are cutting positions and furloughing teachers, but the accountability to the community and within themselves is still there, but the work is also still there. Teachers have as much or more to do but are making less money. Most are proud to still have a job, but others are upset. It’s really tough right now,” Dr. Pharis said.

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