As Hall County students started their third week of classes, the school board got back to debating budget issues.
With new federal stimulus money on its way to the states, Superintendent Will Schofield announced that teachers and students should be prepared to be in school on Feb. 21, formerly a furlough day.
The “emergency” $26 billion jobs bill pushed through Congress on Aug. 10 will send about $550 million to Georgia and almost $5 million to Hall County Schools if all works according to plan.
“We’ve said from day one that we’d like to protect instructional time, and although we’re not in a position to recommend adding the day back in yet, we need to go ahead and inform people who may begin to make plans for that weekend,” Schofield told the board Monday night. “It’ll be a day with pay for teachers and a day of instruction for students, so I did want to run this by you and get head shakes about whether we should put this time back into the calendar.”
On Aug. 10, Democrats demanded a one-day session to act before children returned to classrooms, and Republicans called the bill yet another government bailout. The legislation was approved mainly along party lines by a vote of 247-161, and President Barack Obama immediately signed it into law.
All Hall County Schools board members agreed to add in the day for the sake of the students, though several didn’t agree with the political move.
“I’m for it, in itself,” board member Brian Sloan said. “But I think the federal stimulus is a flawed method. I wonder if one day my son or grandson will be sitting here, asking why we accepted it. It’s just a principle, and I’m a conservative, small-government Republican.”
Although Sloan agrees for now, he may not if further stimulus packages are passed.
“There would be a point down the road that I would say ‘no’ and it comes at a place where the federal government doesn’t have this money,” he said. “We’ve already cut this money from the budget and made it work, but now we’re borrowing more.”
Schofield said this bill offers some of the most flexible funds the states have received so far.
“If we’re going to take it, the proper place is to put it back into the classroom,” board member Craig Herrington said. “I feel like Brian — that it’s really a no-win situation, but after cutting the teachers and students like we have, we now have the opportunity to put some money back in, and I think we have to do that.”
If the schools don’t use the money, someone else will, board member Sam Chapman said.
“I think we can do this, and I think we should,” he said. “If we don’t take it, they’ll allocate the money to someone else.”
The board also approved capital outlay project applications, which outlines a five-year building construction plan with the state. Some of the work includes roof and air conditioning replacements at the middle schools, as well as the addition of four classrooms — chorus, drama, art and a computer lab — at East Hall High School.
“We’re trying to get shovel-ready at East Hall by the time school ends,” Schofield said. “If you don’t ask for the funds now, you can’t get it.” A vote on the school board’s SPLOST IV comes up in March, and Schofield said the board may want to use those funds to do roof projects next summer.
For a second time, the board discussed whether the Flowery Branch High School chorus should be allowed to perform at Disney World in April. About 75 students and 20 chaperones would leave during spring break, and the board continues to debate the wisdom of expensive field trips during tough economic times.
“I understand the board is concerned that we are putting undue pressure of families with $500 field trips,” Schofield said.
“Some students in a class may have to stay home if they feel like they can’t pull it off.”
Board member Nath Morris said he is concerned about local businesses as well.
“From the fundraising aspect, families and businesses have told me we have to slow down,” he said. “We can’t keep funding these because it’s a lot of money to be raised or spent by parents.”
The board will address the question again in September.