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More details on school cuts released

COVINGTON -- Although the Newton County School System is making deep cuts to compensate for an anticipated $9.7 million deficit, not as many teachers will be displaced as originally expected.

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley released a 15-minute video to employees Wednesday afternoon detailing more information about the cuts. He said that 22 elementary teachers and 11 special education positions are being eliminated through attrition -- teachers not returning to NCSS due to retirement, resignation or other reasons.

As a result, he said, approximately 39.5 elementary teachers and five special education teachers will be displaced due to cuts. He had announced last Friday that 61.5 elementary teaching positions and 16 K-12 special education teaching positions would be eliminated in the first round of cuts from NCSS.

"Since we anticipate additional retirements and resignations, it may increase the number of teacher vacancies, and the number of displaced employees should continue to decrease," said Nyree Sanders, director of Human Resources at NCSS, in the video.

For the employees who will be displaced, NCSS will implement its Reduction In Force policy.

Whatley said NCSS officials will consider three factors to determine which employees will be displaced -- job performance, teacher certification and seniority.

Sanders said employees will be grouped based on their quality of work and overall effectiveness and if they hold a professional certificate with a highly qualified status. An initial review will consider unsatisfactory job performance reviews and annual evaluations over the last two years and other documented disciplinary action maintained by principals. If the number of those employees exceeds what is necessary to cut, the superintendent or his designee will consider progress made.

Also, seniority will be determined by the date the board approved their employment. If that number exceeds those who need to be cut, the date the employee signed his or her contract with serve as the basis of seniority, Sanders said.

"It is our goal to conduct the process in a fair, consistent and thorough manner," Sanders said. "We are sensitive to the fact that this is a difficult fact to many of you who have dedicated your lives to the education of children in Newton County. It is our desire also for you to support the school system and administration by understanding staff reductions are being undertaken in best interest of Newton County Schools and the students we serve."

In the video, Whatley also defended making the announcement at 5 p.m. on a Friday by sending out an e-mail to NCSS staff on the last day of school before the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests were to be given.

"The information was not finalized until last Friday, as I had been in a state superintendent meeting awaiting more information from the state and its effect on our local budget," he said in the video. "Since CRCTs (were) being given this week and the principals were being informed last Friday, it was felt that it was better to let all staff know by e-mail of the impending changes before the weekend and before testing this week, and then hold either large or small group meetings in person or by mediacast. ... We cannot wait any longer for our final revenue figures for next year's budget. ... We must move forward with budget planning."

Whatley said he regrets that this process is necessary.

"I hope as professionals you will continue to keep your focus for the remainder of this year on your students' achievements," he said.

The full-time teaching staff reductions are in addition to the elimination of 14 part-time paraprofessionals at the elementary level, the graduation coach program at the high school level, three high school guidance counselor positions, three high school clerical positions, a reorganization of administrative and clerical staff in the curriculum and operations departments at the central office and several cuts to benefits.

NCSS has not yet released the administrative positions that will be cut, but they are expected to cut at least $500,000 from the budget, Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent of operations at NCSS, said Thursday.

The system also is planning to eliminate the entire middle school athletics program, which would save about $100,000. It also would cut teacher salary supplements, as coaches are paid between $500 and $2,000 or more when they serve as coaches, according to a supplement chart.