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No furloughs, reduced days for school employees yet

Reduced days saved city around $220K a day, Hall around $750K a day

POSTED: January 18, 2012 11:41 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Riverbend Elementary School second-grade teacher Happy Volle works with students, from top, Katelyn Kidd, Brady Hall, Aiken Wilson and Hunter Pierce. Teachers in the county and city school systems are not facing furloughs and reduced schedules in the next school year.

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Hall County and Gainesville teachers can breathe sighs of relief: there are no furlough or reduced work schedule days on the 2012-2013 calendars yet.

"We're examining (the state budget) to see how we best might take the resources we have and still provide 180 days for children," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. "We are trying to hold to the 190-day calendar for teachers so they can have their professional learning days built into their schedule. ... The board and I and our district staff will look to see how we can fund those days. Should there be any changes to the calendar or the structure of compensation, we will let employees know before they sign their contract."

For a furlough day, the school system pays the employer's portion of retirement for everyone's full 190-day work schedule. With a reduced work schedule, however, there are days when school systems will not have retirement or salary covered, Dyer said.

In the past, having these on the calendar saved city schools between $220,000 and $225,000 per day and county schools about $750,000 per day.

"We get anesthetized into forgetting just how draconian the cuts have been to education in the past five or 10 years," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. "In the 2002 to 2003 school year, it was the first time Georgia didn't have enough to pay (Quality Basic Education funding)."

The state basically said, "Hall County, you're going to get $2 million less because we don't have it," Schofield said.

The formula the state uses to calculate QBE earnings for each public school system came into effect in 1985, said Janet Allison, chief financial officer for Gainesville City Schools. It bases funding on the school system's previous year enrollment.

"The austerity cuts are a real blow to our operation. It's quite a negative factor. However, the realization is the state does not have the money either," said Lee Lovett, deputy superintendent for Hall County Schools.

"Everybody's having to cut and that's what the state had to do and we have to live with it."

Since the 2008-2009 school year, nearly 1,000 more students have enrolled in city schools amid nearly $17 million in reduced state funding, Dyer said.

Hall County experienced "a lion's share" of cuts, Schofield said.

"The last (few) years, that's $54 million that's just gone, that we had become used to being able to operate with," he said. "We're teaching more students with about $20 million less (than last year) and we're doing it with a local tax digest that's dropped. That's the perfect storm in economic terms for a shortfall. We can't turn the lights off and turn the thermostat down to make up $20 million. You have to make up with people."

To make up for that shortfall over the past four years, 120 Georgia school districts furloughed or reduced work schedules of faculty, Dyer said.

"For the 2012 budget, based on eight days of reduced work, salaries were about $37 million and benefits, $11.8 million. Right now we had to add another $120,000 to that so we're right at $12 million," Allison said.

Between 80 and 90 percent of a budget is tied up in personnel salary and benefits.

"The state legislature sets the salary schedule, so a school system is required by law to pay on that salary schedule," Dyer said. "They are not required to offer local supplement, but many school systems do to be competitive in attracting teachers."

Some districts chose either to freeze or eliminate a local salary supplement.

In Gainesville, newer teachers get about a 12 percent local supplement. Those who have been in education longer get 10 percent. The local supplement was reduced in the 2010 budget year, and it might be re-evaluated for fiscal 2013, Dyer said.

"That first year we were in deficit, we took off $900 from everybody on the local supplement," Allison said. "It was restored the next year. ... For next year, I don't know yet; we're just starting to hear from the legislature about the budget."

Three years ago, Hall officials chose to cut everyone's pay 2.4 percent and Schofield's 3.4 percent from the local supplement.

"We pay a local supplement because we compete with Gwinnett, Forsyth and Cobb County. We don't think there's much more important than getting the best teachers on the planet in our classrooms," Schofield said.

Benefits are calculated on a percentage of the state base salary. A teacher with a master's degree and 10 years experience has 18.5 percent covered by the employer, but if the teacher was just out of school with a bachelor's degree, she would have less coverage, Allison said.

"We've got to face the fact that we're in a new time. When you've been furloughing or reducing work schedules for four years and there appears to be no restoration of cuts, then it's time to be realistic and look at changing the structures you have in place so you can live within your means."

 



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