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School board reviews possible cuts again
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At a Tuesday morning work session, Liberty County school board members spent time discussing ways to trim the budget in anticipation of reduced funding from the state and to preserve as much of the district’s reserve funds as possible.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said the recommended cuts are designed to first preserve instructional programs for the 2010-11 school year while also minimizing the impact on employees. “Our goal is to avoid pink slips,” Scherer said.
The board will consider eliminating two and a half days of locally paid sick leave, at a cost savings of $1,560,000. Board Chairwoman Lily Baker said employees will still receive state-allowed sick days, and Assistant Superintendent Jason Rogers confirmed the cuts would not affect sick-leave calculations for retirement.
In addition to saving the district money, “this would actually help with attendance and focus on instruction,” Scherer said.
The largest area of budget reduction, at $2,106,000, is a suggestion to implement six furlough days. Baker emphasized that the furlough days are not being mandated by the state. According to Scherer, as part of austerity cuts that are being carried over, the amount was eliminated from the budget this year and will not be restored next year.
The state has yet to communicate any hard numbers to school districts, that, like Liberty County, are waiting to know just how much money they can expect. In addition to the delay, current bills moving through the Georgia legislature also could alter final plans for budgets, particularly decisions about furloughs.
Georgia Senate Bill 515, the Educators’ Salary Protection Act, would prohibit school districts from implementing furloughs when they have 6 percent or more of their operating budgets in a local reserve fund.
Liberty County falls under the prohibition, and Scherer said though the reserve fund could safely cover the operating budget this year, “my concern is for the years ahead,” particularly if the economy remains sluggish and state revenues continue to fall or stay flat.
Another contentious area where cuts were recommended is the district’s STAR program, which allows students facing extreme disciplinary action to improve their behavior and classroom performance within the school setting. Parents came to the work session to show support for the program, which if cut would save the district nearly $250,000.
Board member Carol Guyett said hiring a single professional to offer some of the STAR program’s features may be a money-saving alternative to STAR.
Baker, who said she is cautious about cutting the program, told parents, “We are faced with tough decisions, but I hear you loud and clear, and we appreciate you coming here.”
Also recommended were cuts to the number of days head football coaches are contracted, as well as reducing the number of football-coaching slots through attrition.
Other suggested cuts:
• Reducing the number of paraprofessionals district-wide (leaving kindergarten at 1-2 ratio; leaving special education, ISS, media and four slots to be used at elementary principals’ discretion): $814,000
• Reallocation of state professional learning funds (would require a waiver): $217,000
• Local library contribution: $190,000
• Reallocation of bus replacement money: $125,000
• Reallocate additional-day money: $27,960
Using reserve funds to retain and introduce some programs is not out of the question. Included in the budget suggestions were proposals to keep the Ombudsman program in place for middle and high school while possibly reducing the number of slots, and to add an elementary school-level alternative program that would employ one teacher and one paraprofessional.
“[The elementary program,] gives those schools in the tribunal process something to do with the students” who are found to disrupt the normal school day, Scherer said.
In other work session news, the board approved a roofing contract with Raymond Engineering-GA LLC. The company will provide re-roof Lyman Hall Elementary this summer, as well as surveys of all district-owned properties, as the district requests.
Additionally, the Liberty County Performing Arts Center — formerly the Brewton-Parker campus — is available to groups who want to reserve the auditorium for events.
Currently, the building usage fee is set at $100 for the first two hours and $30 for each additional hour, with a $200 security deposit due up front. Other fees include a sound technician fee, custodial fee and cancellation fee.
Organizations that want to reserve the auditorium can call Rogers at 876-2161.

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