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NCSS compiles budget survey results

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Newton County School System administrators are looking over data from the recently closed stakeholder survey regarding possible major budget reductions.

From late January until Tuesday, the community was asked to take a survey on a proposed list of cuts to NCSS that totaled $13 million. NCSS is searching for about $9 million to cut from next school year's budget to prepare for expected lost local, state and federal revenues.

NCSS received 2,735 completed surveys from the community.

Additionally, 24 school councils that came to a consensus as a group, 26 PTO presidents from a roundtable meeting and 40 teachers from a teachers forum were surveyed.

There are only a few areas that are undecided by those who took the survey, according to results released Thursday, which told if the four groups strongly agreed, agreed, were undecided, disagreed or strongly disagreed with certain proposed cuts.

* Most groups agreed that there should be a change in high school scheduling from a 4X4 block to a seven-period day that included remediation or enrichment for students. It would save $2,820,000 by eliminating 47 teacher positions, 18 at Alcovy High School, 12 at Eastside High School and 17 at Newton High School.

School councils, school PTO presidents and teachers surveyed strongly agreed with the cut, and the public, on average, agreed to the cut.

The school board is expected to vote on this issue in March.

* The same results were true for a contract with Ombudsman to provide a new model for alternative education in NCSS. It would save $1,941,962 in cuts, mostly to staff.

This would eliminate Sharp Learning Center alternative school. Instead, NCSS would contract with Ombudsman to provide private, alternative education services.

* The public also agreed, and the other groups strongly agreed that NCSS should implement a three-tier student transportation system.

The new system would save $1,477,441 by reducing 44 bus drivers, all 25 substitute bus drivers, 27 bus monitors, one mechanic and some bus replacement costs, fuel consumption and insurance.

This would eliminate middle school and high school students riding the same bus, as they do now with the two-tiered system. It would make bell times for elementary schools at 7:40 a.m. and 2:10 p.m., middle schools at 9 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. and high schools at 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.

The school board is expected to vote on this topic at its Feb. 15 meeting.

* The same results held true for reorganizing and reducing maintenance and custodial staffs for a savings of $954,000.

It would reduce custodial workdays from 234 to 224, eliminate three high school facility coordinator positions, downgrade three custodial positions and eliminate 29 custodial positions at the schools.

* All groups agreed, on average, to reduce the school year by one day for students and reduce employee work days by one additional day to save $950,000.

Already this school year, NCSS students are attending school 178 school days, instead of the typical 180-day school year. Teachers have had their work days reduced by six for the past two school years.

* All groups strongly agreed to eliminate two assistant principal positions, one each at Newton and Alcovy High Schools, which currently have four each to save $215,000.

* Groups also all strongly agreed with the decision to combine the Newton College and Career Academy CEO and the director of Career, Technical, and Agriculture Education positions for a $65,000 savings.

* Teachers agreed, on average, and all other groups strongly agreed that NCSS should require a 10 percent cut in all central office budgets to get $160,000 worth of savings.

* The public and school PTOs agreed, while school councils and teachers strongly agreed, on average, to reduce the number of school resource officers from 18 to 14, leaving three each at Alcovy and Newton High and two at Eastside and one at Sharp Learning Center if it continues to operate. It would save NCSS $171,428.

Other issues that Mathews proposed were a little more undecided by those taking the survey.

* The public was undecided, and other groups disagreed with the decision to eliminate 70 six-hour per day regular education instructional paraprofessional positions at the elementary schools for a $1,127,000 savings.

* School PTOs disagreed and others were undecided, on average, on the decision to eliminate 28 eight-hour per day regular education instructional paraprofessional positions at the elementary schools for a savings of $582,400.

* And teachers disagreed, on average, and other groups were undecided on whether to reduce the 1 percent board contribution to the 403b retirement plan for Teachers Retirement System employees to .5 percent to save $422,000.

* Changing school schedules to an untraditional amount of school days also were tough to agree upon for all of the groups.

All groups were either undecided, disagreed or just agreed with the change of school schedules to one of three choices -- Four day school week/156 school days for a $820,000 savings; 158 school days with the day being lengthened by approximately 42 minutes for elementary and 52 minutes for secondary for a $750,000 savings; and 169 school days with the day being lengthened by approximately 20 minutes for elementary and 28 minutes for secondary for a $375,000 savings.

Only teachers agreed with the four-day school week and 169 school days, and school councils disagreed with the four-day school week and 158 school days; all other categories were undecided.

Mathews said Wednesday that NCSS administration will review the survey results and formally present them to the Newton County Board of Education at a planning meeting on Feb. 25 to gain a consensus from school board members.

In March, Mathews plans for the school board to approve a list of tentative budget reductions; the board is scheduled to adopt a tentative budget on May 17 and a final budget on June 14. NCSS must issue employee contracts no later than May 15.