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As holiday break begins, school furloughs loom
Hall, Gainesville officials weigh effect of state budget woes on calendars
Fair Street IB World School students race to the buses Friday afternoon dodging rain drops. The school day ended early as students began their winter break.

Children in Gainesville and Hall County schools joyfully headed home Friday for a two-week holiday break.

While kids begin to savor the first of many days off today, parents and teachers are eager to learn just how many more days this spring students will be at home and not in class. State officials have yet to determine how many, if any, furlough days Georgia educators will take to reduce state spending.

The state Department of Revenue reported state revenue was down 16.2 percent in November
compared to last year. Local school leaders are making plans "just in case" more furloughs come, Hall Superintendent of Schools Will Schofield said.

Both Hall and Gainesville school districts took three furlough days during fall semester. Gainesville students enjoyed a longer Thanksgiving break while Hall students had two half days, one of which was on Friday, and two full days off earlier in the semester.

Schofield said it is unclear whether the state will ask schools to take no furlough days this spring or as many as seven.

Schofield said for the Hall district, more furlough days will mean days when students, as well as teachers, will not show up for school. In order of priority, April 2, April 12, May 7, May 10 and May 21 are all days the Hall school board is considering for furlough days.

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said teachers will be surveyed when they return to school in January on their preferences for furlough days. She said teachers have two options: furlough Jan. 15, Feb. 12, Mar. 12 and April 2, which are early release days, and/or any snow days that may occur to replace those days; or end school on May 14 instead of on May 21.

Dyer said Gainesville teachers also will be surveyed on whether they want to keep the present reduction in their paychecks in anticipation of further furlough days.

Hall teachers’ salaries without furlough reductions will be restored in January because about one-fourth of Hall teachers surveyed wanted their due pay, Schofield said. The Hall school board will re-evaluate how it will take out additional teacher pay cuts if the state issues more furloughs, he said.

Dyer said if there are more teacher furloughs and state education cuts coming, she hopes Gov. Sonny Perdue will announce them on Jan. 13 in his State of the State address. She said further delays in making the announcement will cause educators more financial stress.

"If the legislature waits until March to furlough, employees would have to absorb that from their April, May and June checks," Dyer said. "That would be a big hit during those months."

Educators also have expressed concerns about students attending class less this school year as a result of the furlough days, as well as teachers getting less time for professional development, which reinforces better teaching practices.

Both district leaders said maintaining professional learning and planning days for teachers is a priority.