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School board approves budget cuts

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Education approved nearly $8.3 million in cuts to the general fund operating budget for the 2011-12 school year during its monthly work session Tuesday night.

The board approved each of the eight items recommended by Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews.

NCSS is expecting up to a $6.5 million reduction from local tax revenues, $3.1 million from state revenues and $1.9 million or more from the federal government for next school year — and those numbers could grow, Mathews warned.

School board members unanimously approved several items:

• Change high school scheduling to a seven-period day to include remediation or enrichment for students for $2,820,000 in savings.

• Reorganize and reduce maintenance and custodial staffs for $954,000 in savings.

• Eliminate two assistant principal positions, one each at Newton and Alcovy High Schools, for $215,000 in savings and leaving each high school with four each.

• Reduce the number of school resource officers from 18 to 14, leaving three each at Alcovy and Newton high schools and two at Eastside for $171,428 in savings, as well as another from the Sharp program for an additional $42,857.

• Require a 10 percent cut in all central office budgets for $160,000 in savings.

• Combine the Newton College and Career Academy CEO and the director of Career, Technical and Agriculture Education positions for $65,000 in savings.

The school board also approved to reduce the 1 percent board contribution to the 403(b) retirement plan for Teachers Retirement System employees to 0.5 percent for $422,000 in savings. Board member Shakila Henderson-Baker voted against the item.

"We believe by not cutting two days (that were part of original budget cut suggestions) ... that we gave employees the option of putting money in a 403(b) plan or not," Mathews said about his recommendation. "We believe they have a greater choice."

The board also approved the contract with Ombudsman to provide a new model for alternative education in NCSS for $1,941,962 in savings. This would replace the current Sharp Alternative School program.

Henderson-Baker abstained from the vote, saying she had a conflict of interest, citing that she worked at GRN Community Service Board, which provides a system of care grant to Sharp and offered supplemental services in the event of Ombudsman stepping in.

"I think we have some real quality teachers and administrators at Sharp," Henderson-Baker said, adding that she has visited classrooms recently. "I don't think (Ombudsman) will work for all students. ... I think we have to be very careful where we place these children."

The school board already has approved NCSS to implement a three-tier student transportation system for $1,477,441 in savings.

NCSS administration previously proposed that the school board eliminate 28 eight-hour per day regular education instructional paraprofessional positions at the elementary schools — which would be two or three paraprofessionals per school — for $582,400 in savings; however, the item was not part of the agenda.

Mathews told school board members that they might have to make more cuts in the coming months — the state has proposed reducing the number of days for prekindergarten classes, which could cut those teachers' salaries by 10 percent, and changing revenue figures at all levels could result in a need for more cuts.

NCSS must issue teacher contracts no later than May 15, according to state regulations.