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Hall County schools look to eliminate 100 jobs

White County could cut 25-30 employees

POSTED: March 2, 2009 7:30 p.m.

Hall County school system employees could find out this week if they are among the roughly 100 system employees whose contracts will not be renewed this spring.

Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said cutting 100 school-level positions will save between $5 million and $6 million next year, and will help offset "draconian" state budget cuts. Personnel makes up 88 percent of the school system’s budget.

Schofield said the board is bracing for lower local revenues and more state budget cuts next year, which are likely to total more than $11 million.

The Hall County school board discussed the position cuts Monday evening during an extensive budget forum in which the superintendent, board members and administrators put their heads together to review services threatened by cuts, including school nurses and resource officers. Nurses and resource officers account for $1.7 million of the system’s budget.

The superintendent said the state requires employee contracts to be renewed by April 15. Schofield said he aims to alert affected employees about personnel changes as soon as possible.

"We want to do it as soon as we can so that people who are displaced have the greatest opportunity to look for teaching positions elsewhere," he said. "... After it all shakes out, we will be hiring back our teachers first."

Nearly 60 elementary school teachers, some of which include 22 in special education and 17 in the English Speakers of Other Languages program, will not be rehired. Schofield said the system hired a disproportionate number of special education and ESOL teachers in the past few years.

Nine central office positions and eight school counselor positions will be eliminated. Some of those nine central office employees may leave their coordinator positions for teaching positions on the school level, Schofield said.

White County Schools Superintendent Paul Shaw said his school system could eliminate between 25 and 30 positions next year to help cover an anticipated $1.7 million in state cuts. Shaw said the plan is still a work in progress, and hopes the position cuts and federal stimulus package funds could help offset state cuts.

The Gainesville and Jefferson school boards have not discussed pay cuts or eliminating specific positions at this time.

Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Hall schools, said the teacher positions eliminated may result in class sizes about two students larger, which is still about four students lower than outlined in the state’s recent waiver.

School board members joined Schofield in "opening up dialogue" for pay cuts for system employees across the board. Schofield said if all Hall County school employees — from bus drivers to administrators — took a 1 percent salary cut, the system could save $1.8 million.

Hall County school board chairman Richard Higgins proposed board members take a 7.5 percent pay cut. Schofield, who has already sustained a 2 percent salary cut, said he would be in favor of an additional cut to his salary comparable to new salary cuts made across the board.

"Certainly it’s a last resort, but we’re getting into the time of last resorts," he said.

School board members said they wanted to discuss the proposed pay cuts with teachers before any action is taken.

Schofield said it could be months before system administrators understand how the federal stimulus funds could help the system maintain teacher salaries.

The Hall County school board is preparing a $208 million budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The Hall County school system operated on a $218 million budget this fiscal year.

Schofield said school boards have been advised not to expect the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant next year, which would provide $3.2 million to Hall schools. He said the system has also been advised to prepare for a state austerity cut similar to this fiscal year’s cut, which runs $6.3 million. And Schofield said he expects state equalization grants will fall short by about $2.25 million for next year.

But the school system may finish the year out with a larger reserve fund than administrators had feared.

Rather than ending the year with a $1 million to $2 million surplus, Schofield said the system could have a roughly $5 million surplus on June 30. The system began this fiscal year with a roughly $8 million surplus.


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