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Board talks budget cuts
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Elaine Wilson has been through ups and downs with the Dawson County School System over the past four decades.


After teaching for 19 years, she spent the next 13 in the district’s central office. She has since served several terms on the local school board.


Wilson said these are trying times for educators.


“It’s tougher than I’ve ever seen it get for schools,” she said. “It’s really bad right now.”


The board of education could face tough decisions next month, when it must finalize the fiscal year 2011 budget.


Superintendent Keith Porter said the most problematic aspect is the large loss of state and federal funding — an estimated $2 million less than what the district received for 2010.


“What we’re trying to do is make up that lost revenue through looking at various options,” Porter said.


According to Porter, those options include six teacher furlough days, changes to employee benefits and absorbing a dozen vacant positions districtwide.


The district stands to receive about $1 million less this year from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.


In addition, there are cuts in various state grants and funding for expenditures like AP exams, textbooks and transportation.


The tentative budget is $33.9 million, which is about $2.3 million, or 6.4 percent, less than the previous year’s budget.


Despite cost-saving measures like furlough days, Porter said the system is “still trying to protect instructional hours for our students ... we’re not asking for a reduction in our calendar year for our kids at this point.”


Porter said some other districts have resorted to shortening the school year.


“We’re trying to protect those things that are really important for our kids,” he said. “We’re trying to not have to further reduce the calendar.”


Wilson hopes it won’t get to that point.


“If we furlough teachers and we affect teachers on professional development times and leave the kids calendar days the same ... we’ve not affected the kids yet.


“If we start cutting student days, then we start affecting kids, and that’s what we’re trying to stay away from.”


Furlough days and benefit reductions are still difficult, Wilson said.


“It’s painful to have to take any kind of salary or benefits away from teachers,” she said. “It’s just hard. It’s really, really hard.”


Porter praised the system’s employees.


“Our teachers have just been outstanding, and they continue to go above and beyond,” he said.


The school board could take a tentative vote on the budget June 1. The final vote is scheduled for June 29.