No decisions have been made, but the Effingham County Board of Education is re-evaluating its class scheduling model at the high schools as it anticipates a $5 million revenue gap for fiscal year 2013.
Superintendent Randy Shearouse proposed the idea of changing high schools from a block system to a seven-period or a hybrid schedule at the BoE meeting Wednesday afternoon.
"I suppose the only reason we started thinking about a change is due to the economy," Shearouse said, "because unfortunately, we’re not looking for things to be a whole lot better next year. It just doesn’t appear that that’s going to be the case."
Funding from the state and federal governments looks to remain stagnant for the upcoming fiscal year and last year’s financial blessing — President Obama’s Edu-Jobs fund and more than $1 million moved from the fund balance to E-SPLOST — will not be available next year. The property tax digest also is expected to fall again for FY13.
"That’s where we’ve started with this $5 million number, and with 88 percent of our total budget being salaries, we have to look there," Shearouse said.
The BoE will host a public forum concerning the matter Nov. 17 at its next board meeting in the central office auditorium to discuss in-depth the details with stakeholders, covering local opinions, documented research and financial reasons for any potential change to the schedule.
"If we didn’t have to worry about the financial part of it, we’d probably stay right where we are," Shearouse said.
On the block systems, the high schools currently take eight classes a year — four 90-minute classes per day for two semesters. A seven-period day model hosts seven 50-minute classes year round. A hybrid would lend itself to subjects, such as history and English, to shorter periods year round and classes at the Career Academy and science courses could stay on the 90-minute block more suitable to their needs.
The bottom line, according to Shearouse, is that the system is running out of places to find substantial spending cuts and sees seven period or hybrid days as a way to reduce faculty salary and benefit expenses.
"If we really have to reduce our budget, you’ve got to look at how you can still provide good instruction and still cut employees," Shearouse said in a phone interview.
Shearouse said that they’ve been proactive by not replacing staff who leave the system or who retire.
"As people leave the system, we decide whether or not we need to replace that position," he said. "… We didn’t replace those folks because we knew every position we could save now helps us in the future as we look at next year’s staffing needs."
The superintendent said that, depending on how the schedule would phase in to each student cohort, they are looking to relieve each school of nine or 10 teaching positions.
Shearouse said to the board: "Our goal would be to place everyone employed in an eliminated position (and positions lost through attrition). Last year we lost 45-50, so I do feel like most could be placed in the district. But there may be some that would not be able to be placed."
Any potential schedule change would be phased in and would include a parallel policy changing the number of credits needed to graduate — a step being imposed at the state level in order to satisfy Adequate Yearly Progress’ overwhelming expectations.
The seven-period day gives teachers 50 minutes of planning, instead of 90, and teachers would have six classes a year. This would give 28 credit opportunities for students over four years.
"Having four less credits per student could also reduce the need for having as many teachers," Shearouse said.
Discussing the changes now would give teachers time to prepare and acquire other certifications so that they can be placed elsewhere easily.
"The importance of this, if we do make a change," said Shearouse, "is to let folks know early on so they can also take the (Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators) and get certified in another area and have more opportunities. The more areas they’re certified in, the more opportunities they have of retaining a position."
School system officials, including the superintendent, have met and will continue to meet with high school instructional supervisors and teaching department heads, who have given mixed reviews for both models. He said science and CTAE teachers, as predicted, supported the block schedule to have time for labs and that history teachers saw the retention benefits of teaching for small periods everyday all year long.
The change could modify the workload for teachers. Although class sizes could be smaller, teachers would have more students, thus more students’ work to grade than on the block schedule system.
"What I’m looking at is what’s best for the kids," said BoE Chairman Lamar Allen, "not what’s best for the teachers. I’m sorry. They come into play, but the kids come first."
Shearouse said that a seven periods a day schedule could increase instructional time by 810 minutes, three more weeks of instruction. But students would have fewer opportunities to take electives.
Shearouse conceded that opportunities were a reason to go to the 4 x 4 block schedule in the first place.
"I think one of the main reasons was, of course, opportunities for students: they would have more opportunities to take more classes, more electives," he said in a phone interview, saying the six periods day offered only 24 credits.
He said that they would have to keep credit recovery programs installed at the schools, programs that have been partially responsible for 80 and higher percent graduation rates. Leaving block schedules would offer students who fail classes less chances to retake courses.
"(This step is) very difficult," said Shearouse. "I thought it would be over by now, that we’d be moving forward again. We’ve been fortunate in the district in that we’ve been able to absorb most things that have happened, but we are getting to a point where we really can’t absorb those things anymore."