BOE ready for cuts, furloughs

COVINGTON - More cuts may come to the Newton County School System if the state requires public school systems across Georgia to implement a three-day furlough for teachers and an additional 3 percent cut in state funding.

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley informed the Newton County Board of Education Tuesday night during its regular session monthly meeting that at 1:41 p.m. that day Gov. Sonny Perdue had invited state superintendents to participate in a brief budget discussion at 3 p.m. later that day.

At that time, he said the governor informed the superintendents of some budget modifications.

"For K-12 public education, the cut would be 3 percent," Whatley said in a statement to the board. "Additionally, three furlough days would be enacted by the end of this calendar year for the 2009-10 school calendar."

The governor said this will help make up for a $900 million budget shortfall due to declining tax collections.

"We've got to live in the reality of the moment," Perdue said Tuesday. "These steps are necessary and prudent to make sure we keep our promises to the taxpayers of Georgia."

Whatley said the schools are in better shape that non-educational state agencies - which will receive a 5 percent cut - but it still doesn't help an already grim financial situation because this could bring an additional $2 to $3 million in cuts.

"It's a very serious balance we have," Whatley said. "We have a responsibility to our students and employees ... and the taxpayers."

In June, the Newton County BOE approved a $159,727,773 budget for the 2009-10 school year; this comes after millions of dollars in cuts during the 2008-09 school year and a reduction in revenues and many expenditures due to anticipation of more state cuts for the 2009-10 school year.

"We are evaluating this impact on our budget and school system," Whatley said.

He said the school system will determine if it can take any legal action and if and when 190-day employees could take a furlough day.

"Given we begin our school year with five secondary days of teacher planning and six elementary days of teacher planning prior to our students' first day of school on Aug. 3, we are under severe time constraints," he said.

Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, said his group was concerned that state appropriations for schools were being followed according to state law. Garrett said although the governor called for the cutbacks, by law, state funding falls to the General Assembly.

One suggestion Garrett offered state officials to consider is to lower the mandated days for teachers for a school year from the current 190 days. While state law requires students to attend public school for 180 days, the teachers' mandatory days were put in place by the Georgia Board of Education.

"We acknowledge that if there's not any money available, there's simply not any money," he said. "In these tough economic times, I'm sure these drastic measures did not come as a surprise to anyone. Our job is to make sure everything is being done properly and legally to avoid any legal action, and that state officials are following the rules of law in order not to bring complications to the process and add expense."

Whatley said it's possible that teachers could be furloughed as early as Friday, but the system is awaiting more information from the state Department of Education and the governor's office before it takes any action.

The school board plans to meet at 8 a.m. today to discuss the additional cuts and take any necessary action. They will meet in the board room at the Newton County BOE building, 2109 Newton Drive N.E. in Covington.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.