Plenty of local teachers said they expect to spend their three state-ordered furlough days this fall working in classrooms on their own time and on their own dime.
On Tuesday, Gov. Sonny Perdue for the first time called on Georgia’s 128,000 teachers to take three unpaid furlough days and ordered a 3 percent cut to education. The cuts to teacher pay and education funding came alongside another 5 percent slash to state agencies and three days of furloughs to other state employees to help bridge a $900 million shortfall amid plummeting tax collections.
Andy Coleman, a computer applications teacher at Gainesville Middle School, said he still plans to take the time to get his classroom in order and lessons planned even if he has to work on days he’s been furloughed.
"Whether they pay us or not we will all probably be there because they’ll have the school open for us," he said. "... Most good teachers will just have to put more of their own personal time in that they’re not getting paid for and we already do that anyways, so it’s just going to be even more now."
For each day teachers statewide are furloughed, the state saves about $33 million, said Professional Association of Georgia Educators spokesman Tim Callahan.
For Hall teachers, the three fewer days of pay come on top of a 2.4 percent pay cut. For Gainesville teachers, the furlough days come on top of a $75 per month pay cut and reduced dental insurance coverage.
Even though local school boards pay teachers’ salaries, the state plans to withhold from local systems three days worth of personnel funding by way of district’s Quality Basic Education check, which has been grossly underfunded for years now, Callahan said. Local districts often have a clause in teachers’ contracts noting their salaries are contingent on state funding, but Callahan said his educators’ group — the state’s largest — is questioning the legitimacy of the state-ordered furloughs.
"We’re going to investigate what the options are," he said. "I think what we’ve got to find out is, is it legal? Can it be done? And then secondly, what are the options to combat this?"
As educators’ groups push against the cuts in funding and teacher pay, leaders of the Gainesville and Hall County school systems said they are polling principals and teachers on when they prefer to take the furlough days.
Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said as of Wednesday, the option teachers seem to prefer is taking the furlough day reductions in paychecks over a four month period from September to December, but not actually taking the days until Jan. 4 and 5 and May 27. Dyer said teachers are requesting they maintain pre-planning days before school starts because the system is opening a new middle school building in August.
Hall County schools Superintendent Will Schofield said his system is exploring taking two pre-planning days and possibly an October work day.
The furloughs will not affect students’ school schedules, the superintendents said.
The affect the 3 percent cuts will have on the systems is not yet clear.
Dyer said the cuts equal a $746,754 reduction in state funding for Gainesville schools. The cuts will be distributed evenly over all state-funded accounts, she said.
"We will work diligently to not allow the cuts to impact the classroom," Dyer said in an e-mail. "We learned this year that by being creative and conserving resources at every turn, we can keep what is important, our children and their education, as the first priority."
And Schofield said for Hall County schools, the 3 percent cut means a nearly $3.4 million reduction in state funding. He said he’s not yet sure how the school board will absorb the cuts.
Tom Macloskie has been teaching history at Gainesville Middle School for 18 years and said he understands that "it was the only thing they could do."
"Nobody likes the furlough, but it’s necessary. It certainly beats the alternative — not having a job," he said.
Coleman, who was rehired Monday by Gainesville schools after being laid off this spring, said he hopes the furloughs will help save a few more teachers’ jobs. He said the furloughs will probably cost him more than $600 in forgone pay.
"But obviously, money is not what you’re really working for," he said of teaching. "... I love working with the kids and feeling like I’m making a difference."
Macloskie said although the furloughs will hurt and cause him to readjust his personal finances, he’s not disenchanted with his role in the classroom.
"I’m not discouraged at all," he said. "Because I like what I do. I love what I do."