School board approves changes to calendar

COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System is changing its 2009-10 school year calendar in anticipation of more state-mandated furlough days.

During the monthly work session for the Newton County Board of Education on Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved a recommendation from NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley to make several changes to this school year's calendar. Board member Almond Turner was absent from the meeting.

"There is an economic crisis in the state," Whatley said during the meeting. "We do not know if there will be further furlough days that will be required of teachers and administrators and certified personnel and even classified personnel."

Already this school year, the school system had to change its calendar to fit in three furlough days for teachers and four furlough days for administrators.

"In looking at the adopted school calendar, we know there are only a certain number of days left in the year that could be designated as furlough days if the legislature and governor decides second semester there will be further furloughs in the state and the cutting of funds to school districts," Whatley said. "We're running out of time in having access to certain days, so we felt it was necessary to adjust the calendar."

The Sept. 23 day that schools were closed due to flooding will be forgiven, unless another furlough day is required, in which it would be designated as such.

As part of the approved recommendation, the Nov. 20 day scheduled for early dismissal and professional learning now is scheduled as a full, regular school day for students. The early dismissal day now will be moved to April 2.

Additionally, the Jan. 4 teacher work day will be moved to June 2 as a work day. If additional furlough days are needed, June 2 would be a furlough day.

If a third furlough day is needed, the March 18 early dismissal day will be paired with the April 2 early dismissal day and counted as a furlough day.

If a fourth furlough day is required, the March 19 teacher work day will be designated as a furlough day.

"We're trying to back load the calendar, so we could take furlough days if necessary but still do the work of the school system in educating the students," Whatley said. "We need to move on with this to give us more flexibility."

He said the state has not said either way if more furlough days will be required, but he wanted to take action now so the system could be prepared.

"We're being proactive in planning the calendar," said board member Cathy Dobbs. "We know that it's inevitable -- it's going to come. We don't know if it's going to be three days; we don't know if it's going to be seven days. We work with a moving target, as does the county, as does everybody else that depends on any kind of funding. I think it's smart of us to go and do it because it's coming."

Whatley said he plans to send a memo out to teachers this week and hopes employee morale stays up.

"(Budget cuts are) beginning to show up in issues with morale," said school board Chair C.C. Bates. "I've had calls about it, concerns, and I think the uncertainty contributes to that. I think the more we can communicate with what's going on with faculties, we'll perhaps be able to put these concerns at rest."

Deputy Superintendent Dennis Carpenter said the state also notified the school system about two weeks ago that it would cut its Pupil Transportation Categorical Grant by more than $109,000 this year. This amount is equal to a 5 percent reduction and three furlough days for state-funded drivers, but the drivers may not be furloughed.

"We don't know if we're going to pass down the cuts at this point," Carpenter said.

He said he and the transportation department are working this week to determine the best way to handle the reduction. Since drivers work 180 days driving and reserve three days for meetings, it might be a cut to meeting hours in which the drivers would only get paid for 181 or 182 days, Carpenter said.