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Gainesville city schools officials look to move forward

POSTED: July 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The Gainesville City Board of Education plans to appoint an interim superintendent at its July 21 meeting, according to board chairman David Syfan.

Syfan would not disclose any names, but said the board is looking for an interim superintendent with budget knowledge who can bring the community together.

The board voted 3-2 to fire former superintendent Steven Ballowe on July 3 following its realization of a possible $6.5 million deficit. Syfan said then that the board hoped to appoint an interim superintendent by mid-July.

"I think we have a plan," he said. "But it’s sort of a two-way dance with the board’s thoughts and the people we’re looking at. We’ve got to talk with them and get them comfortable with the situation, too."

Multiple speakers at Ballowe’s farewell celebration Thursday night recommended Dr. Elfreda Lakey, an assistant superintendent of Gainesville city schools, for the interim position.

"We have not ruled out any system employees, and I’m sure Dr. Lakey will play a role," Syfan said. "Dr. Lakey already has a fairly demanding job with the system. One thing we’ve got to look at is if we start moving people around, we create other vacancies in the system. One factor we’re considering is stability within the system."

School board member Maria Calkins said she hopes to appoint an interim superintendent who could help restore the community’s faith in the school system.

"I would like to see someone who would be a strong ambassador to the community and earn their trust back," she said. "I’d like someone who was familiar with the system, and knows what we expect and someone who has embraced the Gainesville Model."

Many members of the minority community said Thursday at Ballowe’s farewell they are fearful his termination may result in the deterioration of his Gainesville Model they credit with the academic success of minority students. In a proactive effort to maintain the school system’s status quo, members of the Newtown Florist Club announced Thursday they plan to hold a march in Gainesville in support of the Gainesville Model.

Rose Johnson-Mackey, co-pastor of Truth and Deliverance Outreach Ministries, said she and other Southside community members are planning a press conference in Atlanta, to tell "everyone in the state, and everyone in the country about how they’ve treated — mistreated our superintendent."

Calkins said despite the division Ballowe’s termination has created in the community, she hopes Gainesville residents will work with board members in devising a plan of action to appoint a new superintendent and to fix the school system’s fiscal situation.

"We are going to keep moving forward," Calkins said. "The trust has to be gained back, and I think you do that by sitting down with the community and talking about it. I don’t know how long that’s going to take."

Janet Allison, director of finance for the school system, was not available for comment.

But Syfan said Allison is planning to meet with all school board members this week to determine possible budget cuts to the tentative $61.6 million 2009 fiscal year budget.

The school board was unable to pass a 2009 fiscal year budget by the state Department of Education’s June 30 deadline due to numerous errors made in the system’s accounting department in past years. The 2009 fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, 2009.

Allison determined a schedule earlier this month that calls for the board to review the educational consequences of possible budget cuts until July 21, meeting with the public as desired and scheduled. On July 21, the board is slated to approve or disapprove each line item on the master revenue and expenditures list before turning it over to system administrators for final review.

Syfan said the board is on schedule to pass a final budget on July 29.

One budget cut parent Selena Rosales stands against is the board cutting the system’s pre-kindergarten program. She said the program helped her and her son, who is now a sixth-grader at Gainesville Middle School, assimilate into American culture.

She said when her son went to the state-funded pre-K program in San Diego six years ago, it was a blessing for her as a working minority mother.

"It would affect a lot of people," Rosales said. "A lot of people who can’t afford to pay for kindergarten count on the programs so they can work, so they can make money. And in pre-K, (my son) picked up the language very well. I think if he didn’t go to pre-K, he wouldn’t be able to make good grades and be on the same level as other kids because he wouldn’t have been able to speak the language."

Calkins said passing the budget is just one hurdle the board must overcome in upcoming weeks. The school board also faces the challenge of appointing a new superintendent and to begin digging its way out of a deficit now estimated at $5.6 million.

"I hope we will come together when school starts and get back to business," she said.



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