NCSS faces drastic budget cuts

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

COVINGTON -- The next few months are likely to be long for the Newton County School System, filled with tough decisions and more possible cuts to education.

In order to be in good financial standing next school year, Superintendent Gary Mathews said the target amount to cut from the system's budget is $9 million.

"(It) is certainly a lot of money with a lot of positions and livelihoods at stake, and we do not take that lightly," Mathews said.

Tuesday afternoon, after meeting with school administrators, Mathews released a list of possible cuts totaling $13 million.

Although earlier this month, Mathews tried to envision fewer cuts after Gov. Nathan Deal relayed a message of positive economic outlook in his State of the State Address, he is no longer as optimistic based on figures that he has seen about projected revenue.

NCSS could face up to a $15 million revenue loss and a nearly $5 million budget deficit for the 2011-12 school year. Mathews said it costs more than $11 million each month to operate the school system, and he would not feel comfortable with a $4 million reserve fund balance in the budget.

Possible cuts for next school year include:

* Change high school scheduling to a seven-period day to include remediation or enrichment for students ($2,820,000 savings)

Currently, high schools operate under a block schedule with four classes per day.

This would eliminate 18 teaching positions at Alcovy High School, 12 at Eastside High School and 17 at Newton High School.

Some students would take seven classes for credit, and others in danger of not graduating could take six classes for credit and a focus period. Union Grove High School in Henry County uses this model, Mathews said.

* Contract with Ombudsman to provide a new model for alternative education in the school system ($1,941,962 savings)

This would eliminate Sharp Alternative School.

* Implement a three-tier student transportation system ($1,477,441 savings)

This would eliminate middle school and high school students riding the same bus. It could change bell times for elementary schools to 7:40 a.m. and 2:10 p.m.; middle schools to 9 a.m. and 4:15 p.m.; and high schools 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.

It also would eliminate 44 bus driver positions, 25 substitute bus driver positions, one mechanic position and 27 bus monitor positions, as well as reduce fuel consumption, fleet insurance and bus replacement costs.

* Eliminate 70 six-hour-per-day regular education instructional paraprofessional positions at the elementary schools ($1,127,000 savings)

* Reorganize and reduce maintenance and custodial staffs ($954,000 savings)

This 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.

* Reduce the school year by one day for students and reduce employee work days by one additional day ($950,000 savings)

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.

* Change school schedules to one of three choices -- four-day school week/156 school days ($820,000 savings); 158 school days with the day being lengthened by approximately 42 minutes for elementary and 52 minutes for secondary ($750,000 savings); 169 school days with the day being lengthened by approximately 20 minutes for elementary and 28 minutes for secondary ($375,000 savings)

* Eliminate 28 eight-hour-per-day regular education instructional paraprofessional positions at the elementary schools ($582,400 savings)

* Reduce the 1 percent board contribution to the 403(b) retirement plan for Teachers Retirement System employees to 0.5 percent ($422,000 savings)

* Eliminate two assistant principal positions, one each at Newton and Alcovy high schools, which have four each ($215,000 savings)

* 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 ($171,428 savings)

* Require a 10 percent cut in all central office budgets ($160,000 savings)

Mathews said he would be concerned about cutting more staff positions at the central office level because of continued federal and state accountability with less oversight. He said his previous school system in Virginia employed 46 central office administrators in a system of 10,500 students; NCSS has 26 administrators and serves 19,500 students.

* Combine the Newton College and Career Academy CEO and the director of Career, Technical, and Agriculture Education positions ($65,000 savings).

The academy is expected to open in January 2012. Mathews said it is hardly an ideal situation, but it's perhaps workable.

Mathews said none of the cuts reduce the current teacher-student ratio, but the elimination of paraprofessionals would reduce the adult-student ratio.

A public forum discussing possible budget cuts is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at Alcovy High School, during which Mathews will present school budget information and will seek public input.

School stakeholders also are asked to give input and take a survey regarding possible budget cuts via the NCSS website, www.newtoncountyschools.org. It will be available until 5 p.m. Feb. 8.

School councils and PTO presidents also will give their input on the possible items in the budget cuts list.

Mathews said he will weigh input from the public, but NCSS officials and school board members may not agree with all of the results.

"The board members have a difficult task ahead," Mathews said. "It is a process."

The superintendent and his executive leadership team will consider items and make a list of tentative cuts, Mathews has said. He expects to present a proposal to the school board in February or March for the board to consider until April. The board is expected to approve a tentative budget by May and a final budget in June; school systems in Georgia have until May 15 to extend contracts to teachers.

Mathews and several board members expressed interest in making as many decisions regarding cuts as soon as possible, but Mathews noted that the state might not release budget figures until May or June -- or even later.