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Tough economic times hit Jefferson parks department, city schools

POSTED: October 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

Kaylee Adamek, 4, chases 4-year-old Bryson Chajon during a game of Duck Duck Goose at an after-school program Monday at the city of Jefferson Parks and Recreation Department. The department recently has received less revenue because of tough economic times.

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When people discuss the current tough economic times, many only think about how the situation affects adults.

But the problems of a poor economy also trickle down and impact the lives of children.

For the most part, it has been business as usual in Jefferson. However, several city departments have reported a loss of revenue, forcing budget adjustments.

"Returned checks have been a big portion of our problem. Last month we had around $5,000 to $6,000 in returned checks," said Colton Green, city of Jefferson parks and recreation director.

"We’ve also had a drop-off in donations and returns — which are things like ads on our Web sites and sponsorships for our (athletic) teams."

Despite a tighter operational budget, so far the department hasn’t cut any program offerings. However, that could be a possibility, Green said.

The program still offers its before- and after-school programs and its usual host of athletic activities, including T-ball, swimming and soccer.

Since programming hasn’t been cut and registration fees have not increased, some excess spending has been cut from other areas to accommodate budget shortfalls.

"Usually, (athletic) registration includes a uniform, necessary equipment and a participation trophy for those participants who are 10 and younger," Green said. "But beginning in 2009 we’re going to have to cut the participation trophies."

Although participation in the department’s after-school program has been pretty steady, Adam Ikirt, the program’s director, said he has noticed changes in the number of student participants as more parents are becoming strapped for cash.

"This past fall break we didn’t see as many participants as we did last year," Ikirt said. "We did OK, but the numbers were still pretty low."

Program participation and athletic event attendance are important to the center’s ability to continue the same program offerings, as about 45 percent of the parks and recreation department’s budget is generated through activity fees and concession stand revenue, Green says.

The students in the Jefferson school system also have been affected by the current economic climate.

"In August, the state notified all school systems around Georgia that all of our budgets were being cut by 2.5 percent," said Sherrie Gibney-Sherman, associate superintendent of Jefferson schools.

"We received this notification after our budget for the year had already been set, "Gibney-Sherman said. "So, like all other school districts, we had to decide where to make cuts. Something like 88 percent of our budget is personnel, so we didn’t have a whole lot of options there."

Although the school system was able to cut personnel costs by not filling vacant paraprofessional positions, the majority of the system’s cost savings came from cutting back on travel.

"We had already cut back on the number of field trips that each class can take because we wanted to make sure that kids were in class as many days as possible," Gibney-Sherman said. "Like most other school systems in Georgia, we are now also limiting the number of field trips that classes take outside of the school district."

The school system also cut back on some professional development opportunities that were not absolutely necessary, she said.

Although trips outside the classroom have been limited this year, school officials said the quality of learning inside the classrooms has not decreased.

"While we were cutting professional development, we were very careful to keep those essential sessions in place. Our priority was professional development associated with special education and Georgia Performance Standards," Gibney-Sherman said. "We put a dome around those things because the teachers have to know what the state expects them to teach."



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