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NCSS OKs more cuts to budget

COVINGTON - Newton County School System employees will take another cut this year in order for the system to make up for unexpected reductions in revenue.

During Tuesday's monthly meeting, the school board approved a recommendation by NCSS Superintendent Steve Whatley for more than $3 million in cuts to the 2009-10 school year budget as a result of unexpected reductions in state and local revenue.

A portion of the cuts will be made to personnel and benefits, which make up 87 percent of the budget, Whatley said.

Those cuts include charging employees $21 per month for single dental, optical and hearing insurance coverage, which is currently offered at no cost. Employees with a spouse or one child covered now will pay $65 per month, and an employee with two or more dependents will pay $88 per month.

NCSS also is proposing a 2 percent reduction in supplemental retirement contributions, from 5 percent to 3 percent.

Additionally, county office positions could be further realigned, and classified and certified administrators are expected to reduce their work calendar by one additional day, which would be at the discretion of their supervisor. Whatley said if the state requires furlough days in addition to the three already taken this year, then that day will count toward the increase.

In the recommendation, the board also approved some program reductions that include the elimination of summer school, limiting technology purchases to essential equipment, and a reduction in funding for textbooks and instructional materials and operating budgets for maintenance, energy, fuel and supplies.

Instead of students attending a summer school to retake the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and get remediation, schools now expect to retest students before the end of the school year. Students who do not need to retake the tests then will get any remediation or advancement for the next school year during the same time.

Whatley said the canceling of summer school will save on transportation costs and other funding required to run the schools over the summer.

"I think it will give us a better bang for our buck," school board member Cathy Dobbs said. "I think the (scores) will rise because they'll be able to focus."

Eddie Johnson was the only school member to vote against the recommendation.

"I have serious concern about the impact on recruitment and retention of some of the best teachers by taking away from their retirement fund," Johnson said before the vote. "We are in competitive times now. We should not allow the teachers to bear the burdens of these hard times."

Whatley pointed out that the 2 percent cut was to a supplemental retirement plan and not to their teacher's retirement plan. He said he would rather make this cut instead of cutting take-home pay and positions.

"People are needing (money) now and have bills to pay," Whatley said.

The other school board members agreed that they didn't want to make any cuts but tough decisions had to be made.

"We are doing the best we can ... for our employees," Dobbs said. "Every county in the state is doing what we are doing - they are cutting in the areas that nobody wants to cut."

The cuts for Newton County equal $3,274,370, but the school system expects $4.5 million in state revenue reductions and $1.5 million in reduced revenue from local sources this school year. Any remaining funding needed to run the system would come from reserves, Whatley said.

"That's a lot of money to absorb," he said. "Making up all of that is just not possible."

These may not be the last cuts that NCSS employees see this year.

"There's a possibility that we are not done with cuts at this point," school board Chair C.C. Bates said. "This is a difficult decision - and one not taken lightly - but one had to be made."

Several board members acknowledged their hope for a quick economic recovery and their desire to speak to state representatives in December, as they've done for the past several years, to let them know they are hurting.

"When they discuss cutting taxes, counties and cities and schools have to make up for it," Dobbs said. "And you get what you pay for. If you keep cutting revenue ... services are going to get cut."

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