Moving against requests from school administrators, the Liberty County Board of Education voted Tuesday to discontinue funding middle- and high-school graduation coaches.
The positions account for $385,800 combined, and cutting the locally funded staff roles was the largest expenditure the board weighed Tuesday in an attempt to trim an additional $600,000 from its budget for the coming year.
The board discussed the matter for 20 minutes prior to making the decision. Graduation coaches were introduced years ago as a state-funded position, but the state discontinued funding the roles and the district elected to fund them locally, according to Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer.
"I don’t think there’s any doubt in anybody’s mind that these people make a great contribution to our system, but so do all these other people," Scherer said. "You’ve got to start making cuts, and Bradwell’s been without theirs for half a year because we started eliminating the positions, and they have found that that’s a sadly missing spot."
Coaches add a level of accountability to student achievement, and they provide almost daily progress reports to parents for children who may be at risk of not graduating. Some of their duties may be picked up by counselors and registrars, while others may fall by the wayside with the cuts, Scherer added.
Board Chairwoman Lily Baker asked whether there is data available to quantify the impact of graduation coaches, but Scherer said there are too many variables in a students’ education experience to determine whether an individual student would have been able to meet graduation requirements without oversight from a coach.
Board member Carolyn Smith Carter reminded her colleagues about that point Tuesday. She also said the board saw graduation coaches in motion during a recent visit to Snelson-Golden Middle School, where the graduation coach demonstrated test-score improvements.
"I think our role basically boils down to success for students, and I cannot separate that vision of success for students by eliminating that extra support that they need, because I think that’s where education should be," Smith Carter said.
During a budget workshop earlier this month, school principals indicated they would prefer to see cuts to middle-school sports before losing their graduation coaches.
Board member Carol Guyett brought numbers back into the conversation.
"What I’m looking at is we have roughly $386,000 that we are paying that is in no way reimbursed to us … that would be at least 10 teachers, and if we are hiring five people as auxiliary help in the schools," Guyett said. "My concern is if we don’t start cutting the unfunded things that we are doing, there may be additional cuts to the classroom, and I feel like they are cut to the bone. These people probably do help, but I remember when my children did go to school their teacher sending home weekly or daily progress reports."
Assistant Superintendent Jason Rogers said the district has held positions open pending the outcome of the board’s budget recommendations so that existing graduation coaches can be placed in alternative jobs.
Before voting on several cuts, the board also discussed reducing the number of additional contract days for employees whose contracts exceed the 190-day standard.
Baker said her recommendation would be to cut all additional days in half, but the board asked for an estimate of savings before taking action to reduce contract days. Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley pointed out that employees already are facing a six-day furlough.
As they discussed whether to cut middle school sports programs, with a projected $76,500 in savings, Baker — a former athletic director — said she feels the timing is not right to cut sports programs because many teams already have held tryouts, selected participants and begun purchasing uniforms and necessary equipment.
Because eighth-grade players would be allowed to play with respective high-school teams, Baker added that the amount saved would be less than the budget projections, because costs would be redistributed rather than eliminated.
After more discussion, the board agreed to discontinue middle-school sports during fiscal year 2015, which means existing middle-school sports programs may be offered for coming school year but will not be held the following.
The board also voted to eliminate the existing public-relations department, a future savings potential of $54,500, and reduce staff travel expenditures by 5 percent, or about $23,500.
The board voted against another recommended $40,500 cut that would reduce the number of school resource officers at Bradwell Institute from two to one. Principal Scott Carrier told the board during the May work session that he feels the school no longer needs two officers, and that Hinesville Police Department always arrives quickly when called.
In other news Tuesday, the BoE also:
• appointed Dr. Cheryl Conley to serve as interim superintendent
• approved a bid with Continental Flooring Company at the lump sum of $38,300 for flooring replacements at Lyman Hall and Waldo Pafford elementary schools
• approved a Ricketson Construction bid of $365,048 for paving improvements to Taylors Creek Elementary, whose parking lot must be reconfigured due to the Airport Road widening. Funds from easement sales to the Georgia Department of Transportation along Airport Road will cover the cost to cure the school’s lot.