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Spending cuts eyed at BoE budget session

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POSTED: May 3, 2013 11:47 a.m.
Photo by Danielle Hipps/

Mindy Yanzetich, executive director of the Division for Exceptional Learning, places her table’s vote Tuesday on a suggested reduction in student support teams, one of three proposed cuts for which the majority voted.

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The Liberty County School System is in for a budget squeeze next year that will affect most operations, but principals, administrators and board members on Tuesday discussed 10 proposed cuts.
Reducing student-support teams, eliminating the district public-relations office and reducing the number of school-resource officers at Bradwell Institute were the group’s most-supported proposed cuts.
The Liberty County School System anticipates a $7.4 million reduction in state funding in fiscal year 2014, according to Jason Rogers, assistant superintendent for administrative services. Further reductions are expected from the federal impact aid the district receives.
The district already has achieved about $4.9 million in projected savings by planning six furlough days, discontinuing elementary-school operations at Jordye Bacon, consolidating classes and not filling vacancies where possible, Rogers said.
The amount left to save is $600,000, and Rogers presented 10 proposed reductions Tuesday to achieve that goal.
“Just to let you know, some of the things that other counties are doing, we have counties that are eliminating elementary-school assistant principals … counties that are reducing the number of APs at high schools, we had one county sitting next to us that’s doing 15 furlough days next year, so keep all that in mind,” Rogers said.

The process
Budget-session participants were divided among seven tables, where they sat in groups to discuss possible cuts among themselves and with the entire room. Rogers presented the 10 proposed cuts and opened the floor to comments on each.
At the end of the discussion, the groups again spoke among themselves before casting visual votes on behalf of each table for the cuts they support the most.
Rogers will comb over the numbers again before making final recommendations to the board. The board will adopt a tentative budget in May and will hold a public hearing in June prior to formal adoption.

The recommended cuts
1. Reducing school resource officers at Bradwell Institute
While Liberty County High School only has one school resource officer, Bradwell Institute has two — which runs a combined $81,000 per year with salaries and benefits. Carrier said he has found that there is not enough work for both officers to do, and legal requirements have taken investigation power from the SROs. Whenever a large issue arises, Hinesville Police Department is quick to respond, he added.
That prompted a larger discussion about the appropriate number of officers on hand at sporting events, but Rogers said the board contracts out to law-enforcement agencies to have officers attend specific events, so reducing the SROs would not necessarily mean there are fewer uniformed officers working athletic functions.
2. Eliminating the public-
relations department
One of the suggestions included eliminating the district’s centralized public-relations function, a department that costs $53,500 in salaries and benefits.
Title 1 Facilitator Harley Grove said the position was developed on recommendation by a district-accreditation team in 2006, “so that we get our message out to the community about the kind of things that are going on in the system in a positive way … so if it’s still a part of what they’re expecting us to do, then we need to make sure that it’s covered.”
Liberty County High School Principal Paula Scott said her school has formed a public-relations team that communicates directly with the Courier, and they have been pleased with the results.
“I think that has been more effective for us than to try and send it through someone else,” Scott said.
Several other principals indicated they get their messages out in their own way as well, and board member Verdell Jones asked for a show of hands for schools that handle their own public relations. Most hands in the room were raised.
The group did not discuss public-relations facilitator Demere’ Bowen by name, but Rogers said she likely would be transitioned into another department. Bowen said Thursday she already handles some personnel matters and would anticipate joining the personnel department with board approval.
3. Reduce the number of
student-support-team employees
Right now, the costs for seven student-support-team employees are $555,000, Rogers said. Those employees are part of the chain that handles student transitions into exceptional learning and special education. They also handle responses to interventions.
Board member Carol Guyett asked if they always have had seven employees and noted that enrollment has fallen by about 2,000 from the district’s peak. Mary Alexander, assistant superintendent for student services, said the guidelines the employees must meet are stricter, and they serve more students than they once did.
Likewise, the group discussed decreasing the number of school social workers, but several people indicated their sites would not function well without support from social workers, who are critical to parental engagement. There are five who collectively cost $382,000.
During the discussion, however, they determined that social workers currently receive 10 additional contract days as well as a $4,500 supplement. They’re treated like assistant principals because years ago there was an assistant principal who transitioned into the role and fought to maintain pay stature. That became the precedent for the role and still is followed today, but the group indicated the pay should be streamlined, and they should get either a stipend or additional days but not both.

Other proposed cuts
4. Reducing central-office instructional-technology staff
Currently, there are six instructional-technology specialists in the central office whose combined salaries and benefits are $437,990, according to Rogers.
However, when department Director Dr. Patti Crane explained what the IT staff does and how frequently they provide training and support to teachers — especially given the district’s classroom-technology initiatives — the group indicated that the cut would not be a good one.
“When I look at the need that my staff has for technology training, I don’t think we could function without the technology specialists that we have right now,” Bradwell Institute Principal Scott Carrier said. “As it is, I think they’re spread very, very thin … to invest this tremendous amount of money that we have in technology and not provide the training to use it, I think we’re throwing that money away.”
5. Discontinuing middle-school sports
Rogers said the district pays $76,500 in supplements to middle-school sports coaches, and eliminating those programs could save that amount. The programs do not require great transportation expenditures, and other funding allocations are made at the campus level.
The topic received a lot of debate, as Lewis Frasier Middle School Principal Jermaine Williams said the cut has been suggested before because it would have minimal impact on students.
By law, he said, eighth-graders must be allowed to participate in junior-varsity sports if middle-school sports are not available, and sixth-graders aren’t currently allowed to participate. That means only seventh-graders would lose the ability to play — but there still are options through the Liberty County Recreation Department.
Snelson-Golden Middle School Principal Katrina Byers pointed out that high-school athletes who did not have middle-school programs have trouble playing opponents who have received that level of training, an attribute that would have harmful effects on local students.
6. Reducing the number of graduation coaches
Graduation coaches once were state-funded positions, but the district opted a few years ago to fund the coaches locally after the state eliminated the positions. Middle-school coaches cost the district about $233,000, while high-school coaches run about $176,000.
The group discussed the merits of the coaches, and the discussion indicated they serve valuable roles in helping to support and guide students directly, especially in middle school. They also handle data reporting, work on responses to intervention and offer daily progress reports to parents who request them. However, the graduation coaches receive 10 additional days on their contracts, and the group indicated it could be a fair compromise to maintain the coaches but reduce their days to 190-day contracts like most teachers have.
High school principals Carrier and Scott spoke in support of the graduation coaches, as did Williams, Byers and Midway Middle School Principal Debra Frazier. They indicated they would prefer to give up middle-school sports than lose their graduation coaches.
7. Reducing travel
Travel was a hot topic, and Rogers said the district paid $230,000 in travel costs last year. The figure did not include the costs of substitutes who covered for teachers who missed instructional time for conferences or learning opportunities. It also did not include travel costs incurred by the board.
Board member Becky Carter said the district should take a closer look at all travel requests and ask “is it necessary?”
Carol Spurlin, director of Title programs, said curtailing travel requests would be a detriment because the district’s Title 2 funds have professional-learning requirements with attached funding.
Board member Marcia Anderson suggested they implement rules like only allowing one representative from each site to attend specific conferences, but Title 1 Facilitator Harley Grove said many programs now specify exactly who is to attend, such as the AdvancEd accreditation.
After more discussion, the group indicated they think it would be best to reduce the overall expenditure by tightening travel restrictions except when travel is funded by an outside source or required by an agency or grant.
Scott suggested possibly reducing the number of locally funded travel days.
Also mentioned were eliminating curriculum specialists at the central office and changing how classified employees are insured, a topic that likely will come up again as costs to insure the classified employees are rising due to state mandates.
Eliminating half-day substitutes was the final topic, and the group’s consensus was to allow teachers some minor leeway to spend time away from class due to appointments, provided it is within a two-hour window and they can arrange for someone else to cover their students. The group indicated this level of flexibility would eliminate usage of substitutes when teachers are able to be with their classes a majority of the day.

 

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