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School system to lose 1 pre-K slot
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The Effingham County Board of Education will eliminate one pre-kindergarten teaching position after reviewing changes in the state lottery funded early education program Bright From The Start.

“Our superintendent and leadership has done a wonderful job of making all this shift so we can keep everybody with a job (thus far),” said board member Eddie Tomberlin. “This is a terrible thing.”

The board passed the Superintendent’s Reduction in Force Plan at a special called meeting Wednesday morning in order to comply with the Fair Dismissal Act that requires school systems to notify employees by May 15 that their contracts will not be renewed for the next school year.

The decision to terminate a pre-K position came as a result of Gov. Nathan Deal’s overhaul of the state’s lottery funded pre-K program that resulted in a $54 million budget reduction intended to preserve the longevity of the program and allow more students into pre-K classes. The move cut funding by 10 percent, including a 20-day reduction from the pre-K calendar and a class size increase to 22 students maximum.

For Effingham, funding for pre-K classes was reduced from 24 classes to 23, leaving the superintendent to recommend the loss of one pre-K teaching position as part of its plan to address these new constraints and changes.

“Each district will do different things based on their financial capabilities,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse. “But with us looking at the pre-kindergarten program, we’re taking that separate program that the state is funding through lottery dollars and so that’s why we’re just targeting the pre-K program in this.

“…This, as far as we understand, is going to be the plan for the future, and we will have (fewer) classes. Possibly, we can apply for additional classes later, but for now, we’ll be reduced by that one class.”

Board members were reluctant to make the motion to adopt Shearouse’s recommendation to lose a teaching position. Unlike most school systems, the Effingham County BoE has avoided drastic cuts in employees, although faculty lost through attrition and retirement have not been replaced during the past few years amidst the economic slump.

“No ifs, ands or buts,” said Tomberlin, “the state has mandated it, and we’ve got to make the tough decision. It breaks my heart to think that anybody would have to be dismissed.”

Mose Mock, the newest addition to the BoE, asked Shearouse if the pre-K teacher could be moved another position in the school system. Shearouse responded that because of adjustments in the regular program, and moving teachers from middle school to high school and elementary school to middle school, there wasn’t a position for that pre-K teacher to take.

“As a system we’ve been real fortunate,” said school board chairman Lamar Allen. “We haven’t done very much of this compared to a lot of places.”

The Chatham County school board decided earlier this month not to renew 110 contracts to make up for budget cuts in the next fiscal year. Other school systems in the state, particularly in the Atlanta area, have dismissed hundreds from their faculties to cope with budget cuts and shortages.

The Reduction in Force Plan specifies that the selection be “based on relative overall job performance of the existing Bright From The Start teachers.”

“As we all do, just take it very, very seriously,” said Mock. “It’s somebody’s livelihood.”