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City's planned teacher pay cut loses some of its sting
Gainesville school board opts to extend deficit reduction plan
Andreka Thompson helps a summer school student Monday at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School. The Gainesvile school board is considering how to financially support more teachers as it builds its budget for the 2009-2010 school year. - photo by Tom Reed
In other Gainesville schools business:
  • The board approved buying five 72-passenger buses for $8,000 each from Forsyth County schools to replace some of the nine buses damaged in a bus yard fire in May.
  • In a 3-1 vote, with board member Sammy Smith dissenting and Chairman David Syfan absent, the board approved a two-year, $50,000-a-year contract with Gainesville Parks and Recreation which allows the school system to continue using multiple city facilities for Gainesville schools’ football, baseball, tennis and swim teams.

Gainesville school teachers may not endure as severe a pay cut now that the Gainesville school board plans to take two additional years to pay off its estimated $5.6 million deficit.

The board had hoped to pay off the deficit by June 2011, but approved a deficit reduction plan amendment by a 4-0 vote Monday which allows the system to eliminate its deficit by June 2013. With the state levying millions of dollars in cuts to the system this year, the board members decided to extend the plan to four years because they saw no negative consequences for doing so.

Chairman David Syfan was absent from Monday’s meeting.

In fact, Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said officials from the state Department of Education encouraged the system to prolong its deficit reduction plan.

Dyer said the extended plan and a “substantial amount” of unexpected federal funding the system is slated to receive for economically disadvantaged students, allows the board to revisit a pay cut plan that gave teachers a flat $100 to $200 pay cut each month for the 2009-10 school year. Now monthly pay cuts of about $100 may be necessary to balance the budget, Dyer said.

The suggestion of a flat pay cut to the system’s local portion of salaries ignited tensions last week between less experienced and more experienced teachers.

Younger teachers, whose salaries are made up of up to 12 percent of locally supplemented funds, said they felt a flat pay cut would eat into more of their salary than it would experienced teachers. Longtime teachers, whose salaries are made up of about 10 percent of locally supplemented funds, feared their retirement pensions could be negatively affected by the pay cut.

Dyer said the board has not yet set exact annual reduction figures for the new four-year deficit reduction plan, but the board could reduce it $950,000 each year to eliminate the deficit.

“However, I think if the economy has an upswing, we can pay it off in less than four years,” Dyer said. “And we can revise the plan every year. The purpose of the plan is that we’re moving toward (eliminating the deficit) and we have supervision from the state.”

The board is working to build a roughly $51 million budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1, by June 23.

To balance the budget, board members are considering making changes to the system’s employee dental plan. The board has yet to decide whether they will provide the plan at employer’s cost or ask employees to pay half of the employer share.

Dyer said the board aims to save $289,000 by making changes to the dental plan.

As Gainesville school leaders tinker with pay cuts, dental plans and the deficit reduction plan, they also are hoping to hire about 43 new teachers next year.

Dyer said the system is hoping to hire back several teachers whose contracts were not renewed for this school year. She said many of those teachers were seeking special education certifications and have now received them.

“We would not recommend them (for hire) until at least the July board meeting,” she said. “Those people we need to hire for (small) class sizes, we haven’t yet hired them because we want to make sure we have enough money.”

Board member Sammy Smith said he feels the pieces are falling into place for next year’s budget.

“Personnel is a big factor,” he said. “I have much more confidence in our budget process this year over last year. ... We’re smarter utilizing advice from state officials and it’s more honest in our dealing with employees. We’re just more frank and up front.”