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School system tries to figure out what to cut next
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Effingham County Board of Education members will eliminate the graduation coach positions at the two high schools and furlough five days next school year.

Two consecutive furlough days will be in October. One is a half-day for students and a parent-teacher conference day and the next was a planning day. Two are before Thanksgiving break and the last would have been a teacher planning day after St. Patrick’s Day. Students will attend school 177.5 days next school year and teachers will work 185 days. The move, approved at the board’s meeting Wednesday, is expected to save $1,850,000.

Superintendent Randy Shearouse pointed out the calendar adjustments were a result of the state legislature cutting six days of funding as austerity cuts.

One graduation coach already decided to take a position elsewhere, and Shearouse said that between social workers in the schools and other employees, the duties would be covered. Cutting these positions will save $157,650.

“We want to look at all our programs and make them beneficial, and it’s tough to make these decisions,” Shearouse said. “We’d like to not make any of these decisions regarding cutting funds. I want to say that this local board is having to make these decisions, but it’s not something they brought upon themselves; it was brought upon by something different than Effingham County.”

These actions are part of the larger budget challenge addressed in a public hearing at the meeting. Shearouse explained that the state has implemented $21,381,148 in austerity cuts to the school system since 2003, including nearly $10 million in 2010.

Effingham has the 153rd largest student population out of 184 systems in Georgia, but it spends less than 80 percent of those systems. For pupil and teacher expenses, Effingham spends more than 60 percent of the systems. In general administrative and school administrative spending, the system is in the bottom 18 percent.

The superintendent’s office has projected its revenue in fiscal year 2011 to be just shy of $79 million, which is $3 million less than the final revised budget from this school year and $7 million less than the revised 2008-09 budget. The board has yet to receive a concrete number on its state funding. The 2010-11 draft budget has reduced its expectations in property tax revenue by $600,000, which may change. The draft budget also is projecting the state equalization grant to remain around $5 million, 60 percent less than the 2008-09 budget, but this may change as well.

However, next year’s draft budget expenditures are expected to be approximately $84.5 million, leaving the board to scrounge for nearly $6 million worth of cuts. Until now, they have been able to trim fat from the budget to where students and teachers barely noticed. But to save the $6 million they expect to lose, the board will have to make tough decisions.

They have decided to move pre-kindergarten from the Marlow and Central Learning Centers to their district elementary schools next year and dropped the last week of this school year. As faculty and staff have been lost through retirement and attrition, the board has not replaced them, which ultimately inflated many class sizes and pushed some teachers to spilt classes between schools.

“There were things, such as people moving around to different positions, but still folks are not losing their job based on their not having a position in the system,” Shearouse said.

The school board does not anticipate increasing class sizes beyond state limits. They expect to lose 27 teaching positions through attrition in addition to the abolished graduation coaches. Other budget areas under consideration for combing include eliminating extracurricular supplement payments and some assistant coach positions in athletics, reducing public library funding, cutting high school paraprofessionals, and cropping work days for custodians, paraprofessionals and nurses.

“I’m now looking at places to save thousands of dollars, and I used to look for hundreds of thousands,” Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff said earlier this week.