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School board approves furloughs

COVINGTON - Teachers and other staff in the Newton County School System should expect a cut in pay this year due to state-enacted furloughs.

The Newton County Board of Education approved a revision to the 2009-10 school calendar in a special called meeting Thursday morning to include three furlough days that Gov. Sonny Perdue requested of school systems across Georgia Tuesday afternoon.

"We will lose the funds (from the state) that we normally pay staff members," Whatley explained during the meeting.

Whatley said NCSS officials have been working on a plan for the school year since the governor informed them of the cuts at 3 p.m. Tuesday. He said they've been working against the clock because teachers were supposed to report today and because the state asked school systems to enact the furloughs before Dec. 31.

"(The state) did not leave us many days to furlough staff members prior to Dec. 31 that were non-instructional days," Whatley said. "(The request) could not have come at a worse time. We are trying to start school, and we've had such high momentum, but we're going to work (it out) ... so this is just a momentary bump in the road."

In Georgia, students are required to attend school for 180 days; teachers are scheduled 10 additional work days that they take before the school year begins for preplanning and professional learning, during the school year for professional learning and conferences and after the school year for post planning.

This year, those work days now will be cut short for teachers.

In order to not disrupt instructional days and to hold scheduled activities, NCSS officials devised a revision to the 2009-10 school calendar.

Rather than have elementary teachers report to school today and secondary teachers report to school Monday for professional learning and preplanning, all teachers now are expected to return to school Tuesday. Tuesday will remain a district-sponsored professional learning day, and Wednesday through Friday will remain days for preplanning, teacher preparation and professional learning for school staff.

"This protects already planned activities for the schools," like professional learning for middle and high schools, previously scheduled open houses at all schools, and preplanning for elementary schools, Whatley said.

The teacher work days that were originally scheduled for July 24 and 27 will be moved to Oct. 12 and 13, which previously were scheduled for Fall Break for students and teachers. Additionally, the original teacher workday and student holiday on Oct. 2 will be moved to Oct. 9.

Students will have Oct. 9 as a holiday and continue into their Fall Break from Oct. 12 to 16. Although NCSS will call Oct. 9, 12 and 13 teacher workdays, teachers will use these as their three non-paid furlough days.

Jan. 4 and March 19 will remain as paid teacher workdays. June 1 will be a post planning day for all teachers and now will serve as the last day of the school year for all teachers, as June 2 is deleted as an additional post planning day for secondary teachers.

Schools that already have events planned on July 24 and 27 that cannot be rescheduled will be allowed to open one or both of those days and use July 29 and/or 30 as a replacement day.

"Using the appropriate work calendars, the substituted workday shall be required as a workday for all employees (at the school), and the designated swap day shall be taken by all employees," Whatley said.

Meetings, such as parent appeals for student retainment, also may need to be rescheduled because of the calendar change, he said.

"Parents, please be patient," board member Cathy Dobbs said during the meeting. "I know there are meetings scheduled before the start of school that will need to be rescheduled, so please listen out for that."

The school board also approved the superintendent to adjust work calenders for personnel who work 190 days or more to take three furlough days before Dec. 31.

Although furlough days may be taken at a particular time of the year, NCSS will adjust teacher and staff paychecks over the entire school year to be paid for 187 days, rather than 190.

"We are going to spread it over pay periods for which the employee gets paid so that softens the blow," Whatley said. "The money will still come out of (the school system's) checking account by December, but we're not going to deduct it from our employees (at that time)."

Whatley planned to e-mail school staff members Thursday and inform principals to start their calling trees to tell school staffs of the new start date for teachers and other changes.

In addition to the furlough days, Whatley said the school system is expecting a 3 percent cut in some state funds for the 2009-10 school year. He said he has not heard an exact figure yet, but NCSS officials estimate it being between $2 and $3 million.

This cut is in addition to the cuts that NCSS and other public school systems across the state already experienced for the school year that resulted in eliminated positions and restricted spending in Newton County.

"We have to look again even more closely at the budget at all areas of operations to determine further cuts," Whatley said.

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