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Hall schools board discusses options to balance budget

POSTED: May 20, 2013 9:39 p.m.

The Hall County Board of Education grappled with “philosophical issues” as it discussed ways to continue to function with a tight budget next year.

Superintendent Will Schofield said the board will have some fairly large philosophical discussions as it continues its budget talks over the next month.

The district’s fiscal year 2013 budget, which ends on July 1, is currently projected to spend approximately 30 percent of its savings, or $5 million.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 is at $283.8 million. State revenue is expected to increase by about $2 million. However, the system will spend an additional $3.5 million on increased heath insurance and teacher retirement costs.

Schofield said while the system is employing the same number of people as it did last year, the increased costs pose an extra challenge to balancing the budget.

“Let’s remember that about 87 percent of our budget is people,” Schofield said. “And we’ve picked up 1,200 students in the last five years and we’re running on a budget that is $18 million less than we did for fiscal year 2008. I think what that translates into is people are doing a whole lot more with a whole lot less and they’re doing an incredible job of doing that without complaining.”

The system employs 3,400 people.

Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett said “a good deal of cutting” has already been done to the budget.

The board discussed several options to balance the budget, focusing primarily on how teachers are compensated and raises are distributed.

Instruction cost the system $134.4 million in FY 2013. The system has budgeted $136 million for FY 2014.
The board discussed the possibility of freezing salary scales and maintaining the system’s current 182 contract days at a similar millage rate to the current 18.49. The state’s maximum allowable rate is 20.

Also discussed was the possibility of adjusting salary scales and incorporating a moderate tax increase, reworking all scales “to fit the economic times” while providing time for professional development and instructional time for students.

Schofield said perhaps all teachers should share in a modest raise rather than the traditional step increases. Step increases awarded to teachers cost the system $2.2 million.

“We’ve had the philosophy since 2008 where we share in the pain,” Schofield said. “But at the same time, don’t we have an obligation? One of the reasons teachers are feeling so harassed is because they’ve been asked to do so many things new whether it’s the new curriculum or the new evaluation system or the new school evaluation system. They have no professional learning time. They’ve had no time to assimilate, collaborate, and they’ve been doing it at night, on the weekends, in the summer, on their own time.”

Schofield suggested having 186 contract days with 10 used throughout the year as nonteaching days.
Board member Bill Thompson said he feels that teachers would appreciate the extra time, especially since many will be facing upcoming certification renewals.

“In teacher thinking, that time for teachers is almost as good as a raise,” Thompson said.

Vice Chairman Craig Herrington said teachers often start early and work later to be able to get through their workload. He said it would be good to be able to give teachers the time they need.

“They don’t have to be running every day they show up from the time they get there to the time they leave at night,” Herrington said.

The board will continue coming up with more specific plans and will adopt a tentative budget at a rescheduled work session at 5 p.m. on June 3. The final budget will be adopted at the board’s June 24 meeting.

In other business, the board heard a presentation about a blended learning academy pilot program, which will begin at East Hall High School next year. Twenty-four students in an American literature class will participate in the program that blends technology with individualized student lessons.

Prior to the meeting, almost 60 students were recognized for excellence at the First Baptist Church on Green Street.


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