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State OKs waivers for furloughs

CONYERS - The Georgia Board of Education approved Tuesday flexibility in its definition of "school year" to allow for teacher furloughs requested by the governor.

During a special called meeting Tuesday, the state school board approved a recommendation to recognize an emergency and critical shortage in state revenue, according to a press release Tuesday from the Georgia Department of Education.

Normally, the board defines "school year" for certified staff as a minimum of 190 days; the school year for students is 180 days. Now, local boards have the flexibility concerning school days in excess of 180 days, according to the press release.

"I am as frustrated as everyone else that declining revenue has led to our teachers being furloughed," State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox said in the press release. "We ended last school year with great momentum and record student achievement, and it's unfortunate that we have to begin a new school year with this issue weighing on our teachers."

During its monthly meeting July 23, the Rockdale County Board of Education approved three days of unpaid furlough leave for all employees before Dec. 31.

Teachers took one day during preplanning, and the second furlough day will take place Oct. 2. A third furlough day will be decided at a later date by the local school board. Classified employees will take their three unpaid furlough days after determining an appropriate time with their supervisors, which may or may not be the same date as teachers take as furlough time.

Although furlough days will be taken on a particular date, RCPS Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis said school officials will calculate the employee paychecks and reduce them during the months of August through December, rather than only during the month of the furlough, to lessen the financial burden.

As the governor cuts state funding in the sum of the salary for the furlough days, the state is not requiring school districts to enact furloughs. Most are expected to furlough teachers, but so far, Atlanta Public Schools and the public school systems in Cobb and DeKalb counties plan to make up for the revenue shortfall in other ways than furloughing teachers.

The governor also told local school systems to expect a 3 percent cut in state funds - about $2,826,000 for Rockdale County. Schools also may see more cuts in funds that they normally have a chance to gain, as the GaDOE will see a 5 percent reduction to its budget that will reduce funding to school systems in the form of grants for transportation, school nurses and the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education program.

Some Rockdale County school board members pondered last week the possibility of more state cuts and furlough requests after January.

"I will be working closely with the governor and state legislature to ensure that future budgets do not cut education more so we can continue to improve student achievement," Cox said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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