Hall County Schools will see four fewer school days next year as teachers face eight furlough days.
The county school board focused on the budget Monday night, trying to battle what looked like a $5 million deficit projected for the end of fiscal year 2011. With a combination of furlough days, the closure of Jones Elementary School and additional cuts of $1 million to $2 million in nonpersonnel funds, the system hopes to end next year with $3 million.
Worried about more cuts from the state in the middle of the year, the board looked for additional ideas but came up with little.
"Before we approve the budget, we can reduce pay, reduce days, increase taxes or decrease step raises," Superintendent Will Schofield said. "After the fact, people and programs are all we have left to cut."
The board agreed they don’t want to touch taxes.
"I don’t feel comfortable with the $3 million number for next year, but we may not have a legitimate choice," said Brian Sloan, the South Hall representative. "Maybe all we can do is be reactive."
"The teachers have been hit hard enough," said Craig Herrington, the West Hall representative. "We shouldn’t change the step raises, because that affects one group more than another."
"I’m just worried about surprises," said Sam Chapman, the East Hall representative.
Schofield said for now, the final numbers and projected changes for fiscal 2011 will have to be a "step of faith."
"What we do recognize is how well people have responded to these cuts," he said. "This is our opportunity to say we’ll pay as much as possible but may have to make more adjustments and not fill vacancies as they come along."
Legislation passed by the General Assembly gives districts the flexibility to reduce the calendar from 180 days as long as instruction time remains the same. To meet the requirement with the 176-day calendar, Hall County Schools will no longer use early release schedules and some teacher planning days.
The furloughs will save the county $6 million, or about $750,000 per day. The closing of Jones will save about $1 million. The additional nonpersonnel cuts come from technology, custodial and transportation costs, which includes savings already made by purchasing cheaper diesel fuel for August and September.
The next question for the board is what to do with fiscal year 2012, which could be worse as federal stimulus support falls away.
"If we have to move toward personnel cuts, we can look at a system of evaluation that includes student achievement and peer perception," Schofield said. "We continue to believe that teachers know who is the most effective, and we can get their opinions anonymously so we’re not cutting the youngest and most recent hires but the least effective teachers."