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Hall County set to alter school schedules
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Other business
In other business, the Hall County school board:

  • Approved the district transportation director’s request to have the authority to purchase up to 30 heavily discounted 1999 model school buses from Cherokee County schools.
  • Approved using $20,000 in 1 cent sales tax funds to renovate the theater at Johnson High School. The theater’s audio, lighting and acoustical systems will be revamped.

The Hall County Board of Education is on track to adopt a hybrid schedule next school year that would allow the system's high schools to operate with 35 fewer teachers. Hall Superintendent Will Schofield estimates the move will annually save the system between $2.5 million and $3 million.

In response to grim state revenue figures and in anticipation of further state cuts to education, the Hall County school board proposed last month to move Hall’s seven high schools from a four-period day to a hybrid schedule where three days have seven periods and two days have four periods.

Schofield said he anticipates natural attrition will account for most of the eliminated positions while some teachers could be placed in system middle schools. He said about 50 high school teachers typically leave or retire from the system each year.

Schofield said he recommended the hybrid model to the school board Tuesday because it will reduce teachers’ planning time to allow the system to cut five or six faculty members at each of the high schools. Instead of teaching 75 percent of the school day, the hybrid model will have teachers teaching about 86 percent of the school day, he said.

While a dozen teachers spoke against the proposed scheduling change at the November board meeting, board Chairman Richard Higgins and board member Nath Morris said parents have asked board members to re-examine the block schedule model since it was implemented in Hall high schools about 10 years ago.

Higgins said the schedule change allows the board to make more cuts to personnel, which makes up more than 85 percent of the district’s budget, and he believes it is better for students.

"I have never been a fan of block scheduling myself," Higgins said. "There are too many gaps between taking some courses and the End of Course Test."

Lee Lovett, deputy superintendent for Hall schools, said the school system, which began this school year with a budget of about $211 million, has a surplus of $12 million whereas a year ago, it had a $29 million surplus.

"The economic reality we live in is that we have to do the most we can with the resources we have," Schofield said.

"We know a lot of teachers do a lot from home," Higgins said of the reduced planning time. "This wasn’t an easy decision."

The board will vote on the schedule change at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Hall County schools central office at 711 Green St. If approved, the schedule change would become effective in August 2010.

Schofield also recommended to the board that it reduce the course units required for graduation from 28 units to 23 units, the minimum required by the state Department of Education.

The superintendent recommended that the board consider establishing scholar and exemplary scholar seals for students who take multiple International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement courses, are dually enrolled in college courses or perform community service.

"We want our seals on our diplomas to mirror what top universities are looking for," Schofield said.

The board also established days during the spring semester that could be taken as furlough days if the state reduces funding. This semester, Hall and Gainesville schools already had three furlough days.

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

"We’re thinking about it just in case we get furlough days," he said.

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 board will consider for furlough days, if necessary.

Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in Hall schools, said the system also is considering moving up its state Criterion-Referenced Competency Test days from starting on April 27 to starting on April 20. District leaders said they do not plan to use teacher post-planning days at the end of the school year as furlough days, and cannot furlough teachers during the last weeks of the school year because many students need those days to prepare for state test re-tests.

Teachers’ salaries without furlough reductions will be restored in January, Schofield said. The board will re-evaluate how it will take out additional teacher pay cuts when and if the state issues more furloughs.

Schofield said also that he and the system’s transportation director may evaluate the weather differently this year to possibly allow snow days to be used as furlough days.

"If we stick our head out the window and there’s a flurry, then we’re calling it as a snow day," Schofield said.

Administrators and board members expressed concerns about students attending school 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.

"Of course it hurts kids," Schofield said of furloughs. "Now we’re trying to minimize the impact. There is no fluff to cut out. We’re going to pay a price for taking away professional learning days for teachers. ... I think as a culture, we’re showing what we value."

In a meeting with its local legislative delegation on Thursday, the board plans to ask legislators for their plan on teacher furlough days. Schofield said he will ask legislators to give school systems as much financial flexibility as possible to better use state funds.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that 35 teachers would face non-renewals.