The Liberty County Board of Education has not been coy about its financial hardship in recent months, and its decision earlier this month to adopt a calendar with six teacher-furlough days for the coming academic year should not have been a surprise.
Citing reductions in federal impact aid and state distributions, the district has made its case. But how will the decision to reinstate furloughs impact its teachers and students?
Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said this week that all staff members will lose six days of pay, including central-office staff. But she acknowledged that doesn’t mean their workloads will be reduced.
“Although teachers are required to take the furlough days and are not allowed to be in the buildings on furlough days, I am sure some do work just as they work on weekends and at night to complete work and prepare for their teaching responsibilities,” she said. “Teaching is a salaried position, and how efficient you are in doing the work determines how long it takes you to complete the job.”
The cost to our economy
Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Jason Rogers provided a breakdown of average salaries, average reductions per year, per check and as a percentage decrease.
The average Liberty teacher salary, $56,165, will see a 3.05 percent decrease, or $1,710 over the year and $143 per paycheck.
Bus drivers receive an average of $12,715 and will see a 3.3 percent decrease, or $424 over the year and $17.66 per check. Cooks also will lose 3.3 percent of their $12,437 average, an estimated annual loss of $410 or $17.08 per check.
Janitors average $21,078 per year and stand to lose 2.7 percent, with $21 lost each check or $496 per year. They also work approximately 70 days more than the other groups, Rogers said.
Paraprofessionals average $18,522 and will lose 3.3 percent as well, or $611 annually, and $25.44 per pay period.
Professional Association of Georgia Educators spokesman Tim Callahan said his 84,000-member group has kept a keen eye on how districts statewide manage their budget woes.
“Unfortunately, the financial situation has not improved sufficiently to put furloughs in our rearview mirror,” he said. “No doubt, they’re reacting to financial factors that they just can’t overcome any other way. I have some sympathy for the school districts, but at the same time, it’s a hardship for the educators.”
While he acknowledged that the cuts are not confined to Liberty, he said it’s “cold comfort” to those whose livelihoods depend on education.
“Everybody’s situation in their family household is important to them, and it’s not much comfort to know that it’s happening to other people as well …,” Callahan said. “I guess the only thing worse than a furlough is simply to lose your job completely, and that has happened across the state as well.
“It just is impacting families very, very badly, you know, when you lose five or 10 or 15 days. And in some situations, you have both a husband and wife who are both teachers, so it’s like a double-impact on their incomes,” he added.
Parents also could incur additional child care costs for the six days of instruction lost.
While board members have asked during meetings for a comparison of employees whose positions are covered through federal and state funds versus staff that is locally funded, Rogers has indicated that it’s hard to quantify because funds come through so many different channels.
In recent meetings, the board has talked about “holding the line” and finding ways to pinch pennies, but cutting board-member compensation has not yet come up. The board chairwoman receives $710 per month, and six other members each receive $500 per month at an annual cost of $44,520.
They also receive an additional $128 per day when on approved overnight travel more than 50 miles outside of the county.
Impact on student performance
Despite funds being reduced, the standards remain. That means the same curriculum benchmarks and test material are expected to be covered despite losing six days of instruction.
Scherer said a decision about whether to extend the length of school days for the 2013-14 year has yet to be made but does not appear likely.
While Callahan said his organization has not tracked whether furloughs affect student performance, it’s treated as a given.
“It just has to be impacting the quality of education, and I don’t think anyone could say that you could chop off three days, five days, six days — or, in some cases, I’ve heard as many as 10 days — and not impact the quality of student learning,” Callahan said.
Peaceful Playgrounds, a company dedicated to increasing children’s recess activity and effectiveness, also has weighed in on furloughs. Its website indicates that because a 180-day instructional calendar is traditional in most states, it’s hard to quantify the impact of modified instruction time.
However, unanticipated closures point to some answers.
“Research was conducted in 2007 and 2008 when year-to-year changes (in the length of the school year) due to snow days in which school was cancelled. The findings indicate that for every day of school cancelled, the percentage of students passing the state math assessment dropped by one-third to one half a percentage point,” said an article on PeacfulPlaygrounds.com.
“The cumulative effect of 10 days either gained or lost is huge. Another way to look at it is that the No Child Left Behind Act required that schools show annual yearly progress (AYP) of 10 points. The above research indicates that a swing of 3-5 points could happen by shortening or lengthening the school year. Clearly, more data should be collected on this phenomenon, but one can argue that current research indicates the ‘furlough days’ will negatively impact student achievement.”