COVINGTON -- The focus this past year for officials and staff members of the Newton County School System and its schools was on budget cuts.
With reduced revenues from state and local taxes, on top of cuts and furloughs handed down from the governor's office, teachers have feared they might not have a job at the end of the school year and system-level staffers have wondered how they are going to balance the budget without making more cuts.
This year, the school system cut millions of dollars in system and school budgets by not filling vacant positions, reducing the use of substitute teachers and school nurses and other cost-cutting measures.
Fuel costs for student transportation have stayed below budget so far.
System officials soon will begin to plan for the 2010-11 budget year, which starts in July and likely includes more state cuts. January also is likely to bring state-required furlough days for school staff members for the remainder for the 2009-10 school year, NCSS officials have predicted.
Whatley announces retirement
Amidst budget woes, NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley announced in late October that he plans to retire at the end of the current school year, in June 2010.
After 36 years as an educator, including almost 21 of those in the NCSS Central Office and nearly four as NCSS superintendent, he said it is time for him to move on to other challenges and interests.
Whatley is married to Marilynn Whatley, a retired NCSS teacher. They have two children, daughter Erin Elizabeth and son Richard Andrew, and two grandchildren.
NCSS opens new schools,
Although NCSS has faced budget hardships, it accumulated enough SPLOST funding and capital outlay funds from the state to build two new school buildings this year.
This fall, NCSS opened Live Oak Elementary School on Kirkland and Jack Neely roads and Liberty Middle School on Salem Road, adjacent to South Salem Elementary School. Live Oak is Newton County's 14th elementary school, and Liberty is the county's fifth middle school.
NCSS recently purchased land at the intersection of Airport Road and Ga. Highway 142 as a possible location for a new elementary school and even another high school or another school building.
In addition to new schools opening this year, NCSS also started several new programs.
The system opened two parent-involvement theme schools for elementary and middle school students at Fairview Elementary and Clements Middle schools. It also started an academic program at Newton High School, the Academy of Liberal Arts, which is a partnership with Oxford College offering rigorous course work that will better prepare students for college life.
NCSS also is in the planning stages of a College and Career Academy, for which it received a $3.05 million grant this year.