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School systems struggle to find areas to cut
Despite influx of more federal funds, state money still is lacking
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Although the federal government has announced that Georgia will be receiving an additional $416 million in stimulus funds, area officials welcome the funds with mixed emotions.

Locally, Hall County schools are expected to receive $3.4 million and Gainesville City Schools should receive around $793,000.

“It’s both good news and bad news. The good news is that we’ll have this money for the current fiscal year, but the bad news is that this means it won’t be available for the upcoming fiscal year,” said Will Schofield, Hall County superintendent.

“We were expecting to use a significant amount of the (stimulus) funds in the 2011 fiscal year, but now the lion’s share of those funds have been pulled to get through this fiscal year. We thought this big (funding shortfall) would be at the end of next year, but it’s here now.”

Even though both will receive more stimulus funds, the systems have to continue to reduce their operating costs because they are still facing a funding shortfall. Overall, Hall has received $10.5 million in stimulus funds, but its state funding has been reduced by $22.7 million. The same is true for the city: Gainesville schools have received $2.3 million total in stimulus funds, but has lost $5.2 million from the state.

In addition to possibly closing one of the county system’s 21 elementary schools, Schofield said the system is looking to make other cuts to reduce expenses. Although the system’s central office staff is already “pretty lean,” he said the system may have to enter into “survival mode” with a bare minimum.

“For instance, a system of our size should have six superintendents, we currently have two and a half. We’ve done a tremendous amount of cutting over the last two years, but it looks like we’ll have to cut another four and a half to five positions,” Schofield said.

The city system has also been reducing administrative positions.

“Gainesville City Schools downsized personnel in administration at the district and high school (levels), and classified personnel at the central office before the 2008-2009 school year,” said Superintendent Merrianne Dyer.

“In 2006-2007, administrators made up 6.3 percent of all employees. In 2008-2009, administrators made up 4.57 percent of all employees.”

While current enrollment levels won’t allow the city system to save money by consolidating any schools, Dyer said the reduced funding issues will be addressed in several ways.

“We will reduce by percentage the expenditures for all schools and departments across the board. This is not usually recommended — it is recommended to cut out a whole program or department,” she said.

“However, we have used this strategy successfully to pull out of our deficit, so we’ll continue. (Also) we will not replace teachers who are resigning or retiring unless it is in a critical field. Decisions on replacements will not be made until late June or early July.”
Because of the reduced teaching staff, city class sizes will also be larger.

“We hope to increase by no more than three students. We will have to make adjustments to classroom placements through early June,” Dyer said.

“For parents, this means that we will not inform them of their child’s classroom placement for next school year at the end of this year, as we traditionally have done in elementary school.”

In the county, officials say they have been able to save money on staff by hiring retirees.

“Sometimes people are quite critical of hiring retired people to fill positions, but there is a two-fold benefit. One, they have a wealth of knowledge; and two, because they are retired, we no longer have to pay benefits,” Schofield said.

“If we can take one position and staff it with two retired people, we save around 35 percent of the bottom line costs. People need to understand that there’s a tremendous savings there, and this also allows us to tap into the knowledge of some of our most experienced people.”

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