Board of Education members are set to vote Thursday on proposals to cut about $4 million from the school system budget, which includes closing Unity Elementary School.
A revised set of budget options given to school board members Tuesday no longer recommended cutting part-time art and music in elementary schools or graduation coaches, which Pugh said was influenced by comments from the public, businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. Graduation coaches’ days may be reduced.
The primary option recommended by school system staff and the Advisory Task Force includes closing Unity Elementary School, which would cut $1.1 million; making $1.9 million in general budget reductions; increasing the school property tax millage by up to .25, bringing in an expected $500,000 in additional revenue; and using $500,000 from its reserve fund, unless $570,000 expected from an agreement with Kia comes in.
The proposal also includes continuing the current two furlough days for teachers and five days for 240-day employees. The school system, regardless of what budget option is chosen, also will change from its current model of using extension teachers to a model called Early Intervention Program, which would reduce the number of elementary teachers by 12, but that does not necessarily mean that all extension teachers would lose their jobs, Pugh said.
Superintendent Cole Pugh spoke for almost an hour at Tuesday’s caucus meeting of the Board of Education, reviewing the system’s current budget problems and addressing suggestions and criticism the board has received. Pugh didn’t mince words as he told those gathered where the school system’s money troubles began, laying it at the feet of state legislators and the governor.
“You’ve got two choices if you don’t like that scenario I just painted for you,” Pugh said after giving an assessment of state budget cuts and cost increases. “You can call these people up here (Board of Education members) and chew on them, chew on me and chew on these cabinet people, or you can chew on the people that really caused this problem, and they’re right there,” Pugh said, pointing to a screen with the names of state legislators.
“So, you might not like what we’re talking about here; we don’t like it either. There’s not a good choice left,” Pugh said. “Those people need to hear from us. My letter is drafted and ready to go. The more people in Troup County that contact these folks and say ‘this is enough, ya’ll need to do something to help us,’ the better off we’re going to be.
“So let me say that one more time. These people up here didn’t cause this problem,” Pugh said, again gesturing toward board members. “Those people right there did,” he said, pointing to the list of state officials, which began with Gov. Nathan Deal. “Starting with that one at the top.”
State funding cuts from the Quality Basic Education formula have hurt the system, but so have added expenses from the state, Pugh pointed out. The school system will pay an additional $750,000 this year to teachers and other classified employees in state-mandated health care costs and an additional $450,000 in contributions to the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia.
Pugh also gave a grim outlook for the future from a federal standpoint. He said increasing fuel and energy costs will drive up school system expenses along with increased health care costs from the Affordable Health Care Act. Higher income taxes and unemployment would likely bog down economic recovery and affects school system employees and tax payers, he added.
Pugh addressed some suggestions and proposals for cuts proposed by people in the community.
Pugh said curriculum coaches — the school system has 10 with a total compensation of $750,000 — create written curriculum and instructional guides for the school system based on state and federal guides. Curriculum coaches also develop benchmark tests, assist with data interpretation, provide professional learning and serve as model teachers for novice teachers and those who have required professional learning plan, Pugh said.
“So we can eliminate those. We can live without them,” Pugh said. “But what impact would that have on our student achievement?”
Pugh responded to criticism leveled at the Board of Education planning to go to larger elementary school campuses, housing up to 750 students each, and closing neighborhood schools like Cannon Street and proposal to close Unity. He said that a system he previously worked in had an elementary school built to accommodate 700 students. The overall scores on standardized state tests of students who previously attended two smaller schools and went to the larger school actually increased significantly.
“Now I don’t maintain sending them to a larger school caused the increase in scores,” Pugh said. “But obviously sending them to a larger school didn’t cause a decrease in scores.”
Pugh added that his children were among those who were transferred from a school with 278 students to the larger school, and they didn’t seem to notice the difference in attending the bigger school.
Some recommendations school system staff considered included a centralized Pre-K, but decided it wouldn’t be a good option. Closing HOPE Academy was considered, but Pugh said the state requires the school system to offer some program for students that go to HOPE and that claims that closing HOPE would save more than $1 million didn’t account for the cost of reintegrating those mandated services and staff into individual schools. He said staff were looking at a possible restructuring of the program next year.
If the school system reduces its school calendar to 165 days from 180 days like it did two years ago, it would again have to increase the length school days to meet state required instructional times, which caused strain on employees. Despite public comments that increasing the school day was unnecessary, Pugh said that longer days are necessary to meet state requirements for Carnegie Units, a measurement of credit hours, and attempts by other school systems to waive those requirements have been turned down.
School system staff will recommend a suggestion to decrease the number of days graduation coaches work to 190 days per year.
Addressing calls to reduce central administration at the school system, Pugh said Troup County School System is under the average of central administrators for a system its size. He said many administrators carry multiple duties that previously were done by more people and that central administration has been reduced by more than a dozen employees in the last several years. He also pointed out that the school system does not have certain positions that many other system have, like a truancy officer, purchasing agent or risk-management coordinator.
Alternate options for making up the expected $4 million gap that Pugh said were on the table, but that staff and the 49-member Advisory Task Force did not recommend as the best way to proceed, include:
•$1.9 million in general budget reductions; property tax millage rate increase of .5, bringing in an estimated $900,000; adding two more employee furlough days, saving $800,000; and going back to the 165-day calendar with longer days, saving $400,000.
•$1.9 million in general budget reductions; eliminate art and music in elementary schools, cutting $1 million; eliminate an additional 13 elementary teachers, cutting $800,000; and using $300,000 in reserve funds.
•Use the reserve funds for the entire $4 million.
“We realize that we are making decision that will impact students, parents and citizens,” Pugh said. “However, the Board of Education and school system have a responsibility to resolve the budget deficit.”
The board is expected to vote 5:30 p.m. Thursday on what proposals to implement.