NCSS cuts jobs, middle school sports

COVINGTON -- Newton County School System officials are preparing to make severe cuts, including the elimination of at least 165 positions and the entire middle school athletic program, to offset an anticipated $9.7 million budget deficit next school year.

On Tuesday night, during the Newton County Board of Education's monthly work session, members unanimously voted to allow Superintendent Steven Whatley to make cuts to staff and benefits to make up for the expected revenue shortfall.

At 5 p.m. Friday, Sherri Viniard, director of public relations at NCSS, sent an e-mail to NCSS employees with an attached memo from Whatley.

"In light of the revenue reductions and the need to cut expenditures, we have reviewed our personnel needs, benefits and procedures related to implementing staff reductions within various classifications of employees," Whatley wrote in the memo. "As employees of the school system, I know you have been anxiously anticipating specific information relative to cuts and benefits. Although the specifics have been 'cloudy' and will remain so for at least two or more weeks, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to making financial decisions that best preserve the integrity of the academic program we offer students, while affecting a savings during these challenging economic times."

He said the first round of personnel-related cuts and operational savings will reduce the expenditures of the 2010-11 school year budget by about $10 million.

The cuts, effective July 1, include:

* A reduction in the NCSS contribution to the 403b retirement plan from 3 percent to .5 percent.

* Elimination of the additional 403b contributions beyond 6.5 percent or $33 per month to employees covered by Public School Employees' Retirement System.

* Elimination of 80 instructional paraprofessionals at the elementary level.

* Elimination of 14 part-time paraprofessionals at the elementary level.

* Elimination of the graduation coach program at the high school level.

* Elimination of the attendance bonus program system wide.

* Elimination of the middle school athletic program.

* Elimination of 61.5 elementary teaching positions.

* Elimination of 16 K-12 special education teaching positions.

* Elimination of three high school guidance counselor positions.

* Elimination of three high school clerical positions.

* Reorganization and reduction of administrative/clerical staff in the Curriculum Department.

* Reorganization and reduction of administrative and clerical staff in the Operations Department.

Effective December, after NCSS open enrollment, will be the elimination the NCSS contribution to the health insurance employee premium.

Also Tuesday, the school board approved an extension for offering teacher contracts. In the past, educators have been notified by April 15 if they will be offered a contract with NCSS for the following school year, by this year they won't be notified until May 15. Under House Bill 906, NCSS was given flexibility to move the date to May 15, and the school board unanimously approved Whatley to make the change in policy.

"In the next several days, district-level administration will be working closely with building principals to implement personnel reduction procedures and schedule meetings with employee groups and individuals affected by these drastic cost saving measures," Whatley wrote in the memo. "Additional cuts may also be needed. ... Please know that we are doing everything within our power to maintain a high level of commitment to each of you in our collective work."

Whatley informed the school board Tuesday that if the school system maintains the same expenditures for the 2010-11 school year as it did this year -- $144,140,801 -- and does not change the millage rate, the $9.7 million deficit would exist without an ending fund, or reserve, balance, which is generally around $10 million. He said an ending fund balance is needed to survive in unsure economic times.

NCSS officials have determined the deficit from anticipated figures -- the beginning fund balance is expected to be $5.5 million, down from $11.3 million; the local ad valorem revenue will drop from $49.7 million to about $43 million; and state funding will drop from more than $93 million to $85.3 million -- and other estimates that indicate revenue will drop from more than $151.5 million to $134.5 million. These figures could increase or decrease, Whatley said.

In his memo, Whatley encouraged staff members to speak out to local and state representatives about these cuts.

"This district's administration and other stakeholder groups have developed a collective voice in speaking to our state's legislators about the crippling effects of the state's continuing underfunding of education and its effects on our local school district and community," he wrote. "Your voice also needs to be heard by those under the 'Gold Dome.'"

The school board is expected to approve a final budget for the 2010-11 school year on June 15.