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Teachers, staff facing job losses
100 Hall Co. system workers will not get new contracts
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Hear Will Schofield, Hall County schools superintendent, describe why the teacher cuts are necessary.

In the next few days, 100 Hall County school system employees will begin finding out that they will not have their contracts renewed this spring.

In a letter sent to system employees Wednesday afternoon, Hall Superintendent Will Schofield explained the factors leading to the cuts, including a drop in enrollment, lower local revenues and more state budget cuts.

“We’ve had a lot of sleepless nights,” he said. “... People will be putting names to positions. It will become personal in the next few days.”

The superintendent said the state requires employee contracts to be renewed by April 15, and he wants to give those not offered a contract time to find another job.

About 55 elementary school teachers, including 22 in special education and 17 in the English Speakers of Other Languages program, will not be rehired. Schofield said the system hired a disproportionate number of special education and ESOL teachers in the past few years. The remaining position cuts are spread through middle and high schools.

Nine central office positions and eight school counselor positions will be eliminated. Some of those nine central office employees may leave their coordinator positions for teaching positions on the school level, Schofield said.

He said cutting 100 school-level positions such as teachers and counselors will save between $5 million and $6 million next year, and will help offset drastic state budget cuts. Personnel makes up 88 percent of this year’s $218 million budget. The Hall County school board is preparing a $208 million budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

District-level positions, such as school psychologists, are being reduced by 8 percent to 10 percent, and school-level positions are being reduced by about 4 percent, according to Schofield’s e-mail to employees.

Schofield said principals reviewed their non-tenured staff to find the teachers who were least effective. The teachers are among those who will be cut from the school system in May. Schofield said when the economy stabilizes, the school board hopes to rehire Hall County teachers first.

“The positive side of all this is despite all these cuts, we’ll still be below the state (class size maximums),” he said.

Although the Hall system has maintained a hiring freeze for months now, Schofield said administrators still believe they will have to hire a limited number of teachers for next school year to fill specific positions that may become vacant after April.

“We have instructed our principals that we wish to do a majority of this hiring from within our current ranks,” he said in an e-mail.

The Gainesville system also faces budget constraints, having absorbed a $1.5 million state budget cut in this year’s $51 million general fund. And Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the school board still plans to reduce the system’s estimated $5.8 million deficit by at least $1.8 million this year.

Dyer said the Gainesville system has already eliminated 36 positions through attrition. Those 36, combined with 11 teachers who are being fired due to poor job performance, will save $3.8 million between this fiscal year, which began July 1, and next fiscal year.

Dyer said the 11 teachers come from all over the school system, and will be verbally notified of their firing this week and by letter next week. They will stay on until the end of the school year.

“This is not a reduction in force, it’s due to performance,” she said.

Dyer said the teacher cuts will likely raise the system’s average class size by about two students.
She said the position cuts will help the school system operate next year on potentially more drastic state cuts and even lower local revenues.

Already, the Gainesville system is estimating its portion of tax collections next year will run about $21 million — $5 million less than this fiscal year. Dyer also said the system is hoping that at worst, state funding will provide the system $23.6 million for next school year, which is less than last year. In August of last year, the state promised the system $25.8 million, but has since reduced that funding $1.5 million.

Dyer said the Gainesville system is offering most employees 2009-10 contracts on April 2, but is delaying the renewal of part-time certified employee and “non-clear renewables” until May or June. Dyer said “non-clear renewables” are teachers who have a teaching certificate, but have not yet completed the accompanying course work required before their certificate can be renewed after five years.

The delay in contract awards will allow the system to wait for more accurate numbers on state funding and local ad valorem revenue before doling out contracts.

“We don’t want to send contracts to people we cannot pay,” Dyer said. “We have got to be very cautious.”

Schofield said the Hall County school board is bracing for lower local revenues and more state budget cuts next year, which are likely to total more than $11 million. He also said the Hall school system is behind $2 to $3 million on ad valorem tax collections compared to last year.

Schofield said cuts to classified staff, such as custodial and maintenance staff and classroom paraprofessionals, are likely to be announced this spring.

Various factors necessitate the current and forthcoming position cuts, Schofield said.

In December, Schofield said he believed attrition would account for most of the position eliminations the system needed to absorb the state cuts and local revenue losses. But only five or six longtime employees took a one-month pay bonus in exchange for an agreement to retire or resign this year.

“We’re seeing people holding onto jobs like they’ve never done before,” he said. “If we had a normal attrition year, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Schofield also said the school system did not take on 1,100 new students this school year as projections suggested, which adds to the system’s budget crunch. In preparation for the new students, the system employed about 30 to 40 additional teachers. Instead of absorbing 1,100 new students, the system took on roughly 60. As of Tuesday, Schofield said system enrollment is below what it was this time last year.

The system must honor the 2008-2009 contracts for the 30 to 40 teachers employed to accommodate the influx of students, but to reduce excess positions, dozens of teacher contracts will not be renewed this spring.

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