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Gainesville school board confirms 3 furlough dates
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The Gainesville Board of Education doubled the number of teacher furlough days to six this school year at a Monday work session. Schools closed Jan. 8 and will be closed Feb. 15 and April 2.

Since Gov. Sonny Perdue called on Georgia schools in January to add three more furlough days in an effort to chip away at the state budget deficit, the board waited as long as it could before picking the dates.

Officials had hoped the icy weather that slammed much of North Georgia in January would result in snow days that could take the place of furloughs, said Superintendent Merrianne Dyer.

But Gainesville schools closed only one day due to ice, and the board voted unanimously on the new dates in order to meet a deadline for furlough submissions.

Last semester, teachers lost three days’ worth of pay in the first round of furloughs. Two of the days were observed last semester, and one was reserved for the last day of the school year, May 27.

“It’s difficult,” Dyer said. “For the most part, (teachers) understand the difficulties the state is facing. We all know almost everyone in our sector is experiencing cuts in pay or the loss of jobs.”

For now, she said the board hopes this will be the end of furlough days for the rest of the school year.

To avoid further cuts, Gainesville schools continue to find other ways to trim costs.

Schools saved more than $460,000 in utility costs between December 2008 and December 2009 after the board implemented an energy management program.

First-year data showed a 34 percent decrease in energy cost among all schools and savings continue to add up, according to David Shumake, assistant superintendent of Gainesville schools.

Shumake presented the results to the board at Monday’s meeting, attributing the success of the program to the work of school staff and administrators who adopted energy-saving habits in and outside the classroom.

“This comes from our efforts as a team,” Shumake said. “It’s a people-oriented savings program.”

As part of the program, each school is audited weekly by an energy manager who tracks energy consumption. The manager then feeds utility bill data into a computer system that calculates consumption and cost savings each month.

Gainesville High School led in schoolwide energy savings, racking up more than $172,000 in utility costs savings in the first year. This more than tripled the amount saved by most schools.

Without the program, the school system would have racked up more than $1.3 million in energy costs, Shumake said.

And the savings are starting to trickle down to the hyper-local level, with students taking energy-saving tips and implementing them in their own homes, he said. “(The program) translates far beyond the schools.”

What did not impress board members was the lackluster savings shown in their own school district building. Energy costs were down just over 15 percent in the program’s first year — nearly half that of the next lowest saver, Centennial Elementary School.

“It’s not flattering to me that this building is lagging not last but way last,” school board member Sammy Smith said. Last month, schools saved at least 30 percent on energy costs, but the district office continued to underperform, saving just over 9 percent.

To keep driving down utility costs, Shumake said more attention should be paid to equipment failures that can drain energy and after-school use of school buildings by various organizations.

Also at the meeting, the graduation rate for high school seniors was projected to top 80 percent this year, a 7 percent jump from 2009. About 242 students are expected to receive their diploma in the spring.

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