In addition to the education topics reported in Sunday’s Courier, the Liberty County Board of Education also discussed the 2012-13 budget, technology initiatives and department restructuring during its retreat last week in Savannah.
Because the board did not take any official action on the items, they are likely to be revisited for future approval.
Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer shared with the board an email from Joseph G. Martin Jr., executive director of the Georgia School Funding Association. The email summarizes key state education funding issues.
“The recommended state budget for FY 2013 would continue the deep cuts in the allotments to Georgia’s public schools …,” the email said. “The total amount of state funds to local school systems has decreased by 26 percent over the last decade on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis.”
As a result of the state changes, much of education funding has shifted from state to local governments — meaning systems that lack the fiscal capacity or political will to increase funding will feel greater impacts.
Despite the state outlook and years of furloughs, Scherer said the budget in progress calls for a full 190-day school year.
“I think that is the best incentive we can offer our employees,” she said. “We know there is no state pay raise coming, and this will be the fourth year since our teachers have even had a full paycheck.”
The board members each expressed approval for the move.
In October, the board approved a calendar with no furlough days, pending state allotments. If the budget accommodates the additional $1,265,917.39 needed to add three days back to the calendar, it will be the first full calendar in three years.
In 2009-10 and 2010-11, the district had six furlough days, and in 2011-12, there are three.
Likewise, Scherer recommended that the pre-K center remain at a 180-day calendar. Last year, the state cut 20 days of funding from preschool programs, but the district opted to use local funds to cover 10 days of operation. In the coming year, the state has added 10 days back to the preschool funding.
The board also discussed the benefits and risks of following a trend that’s gained traction in Douglas and Forsyth counties: the “Bring Your Own Technology” initiative.
“We’re spending so much time right now, and we are killing ourselves, enforcing a cellphone policy that doesn’t make a lot of sense …,” Scherer said. “What this policy would do is, under guidance and supervision, it would allow students to bring and utilize their own technology in school and in the classroom.”
Those who do not have their own technology would have access to similar classroom items, she added.
“Now, it’s going to require a number of changes. One, it’s a change in philosophy and the way you look at the world. … It requires a change in policy. … We’re suspending more kids right now for cellphone violations than we are for any disruptive behavior,” she said.
To accommodate the initiative, the district also would have to make infrastructure changes that would require students to communicate using the district’s Internet connection, which blocks inappropriate websites.
The board discussed the matter at length. Chairwoman Lily Baker said she could see both advantages and disadvantages to the idea; member Carol Guyett voiced strong support.
Becky Carter said she is curious about the way other districts have incorporated technology and would like more information about the policies that they have adopted. Vice Chairwoman Verdell Jones said she has heard before that the district’s technology policy is too harsh, yet she sees the idea being problematic for teachers. Jones added that she would be curious to see data analysis on how such technology affects student performance.
Finally, the board asked Scherer to provide more information about the policies and practices used in the counties that are participating in the initiative.
Scherer also presented two department restructuring proposals for the district’s curriculum and personnel departments.
With the curriculum department, she recommends changing the current system from one with three specialists and two secretaries working under a director to a structure where two executive directors oversee three specialists and two secretaries.
The move would accommodate the increased workload the department is likely to encounter when the state rolls out its common core curriculum, Scherer said.
The costs associated with this proposal include raising the current director’s salary to an executive director level, as well as the salary and benefits for a second executive director.
With the personnel department, Scherer recommended creating an executive director position to oversee the department’s six employees and consolidating an additional secretary to staff the personnel window.
Salary and benefits for another executive director also are the costs associated with this proposal.
Baker cautioned the board to consider the costs associated with the restructuring.
“When you start thinking about budget and the expenses that comes with all that, I just want to remind us all that we’re talking about expenses. We’ve already talked today about adding expenses back into the budget …,” Baker said. “I want us all to be cognizant of what’s really before us.”