Despite recent state cuts in education funding, Dawson County Superintendent Keith Porter says the district is prepared for the start of the new school year.
“We are looking forward to the students returning next week, and we hope for them not to perceive any changes in programs and services that we provide,” Porter said.
Gov. Sonny Perdue announced recently that school districts will see funding drop by 3 percent and that the state’s 128,000 public school teachers must take three furlough days, or days off without pay, by the end of the calendar year.
“After approving the budget and not raising the millage rate, these additional cuts mean we are at a budget loss of $562,000,” Porter said.
The furloughs will save the local system about $300,000, he said. The remaining $262,000 gap will be made up by the system’s reserves.
“We do not anticipate these cuts to have any affect on instruction in our schools,” Porter said.
“Many teachers have worked on their own time throughout the summer to prepare for the return of students next week.”
He added that employees systemwide, not just teachers, will be taking furlough days. The position of each employee determines what days they will take.
As of Tuesday, the school system expected teachers to take off Friday, a pre-planning day, as well as scheduled teacher work days on Oct. 12 and Jan. 4.
“As we’ve spoken of possibilities, our focus has remained on sharing the burden (of furlough days) rather than eliminating positions,” Porter said. “Personnel makes up about 85 percent of the budget, which includes salaries and benefits for employees.”
Wayne Chelf, principal at Dawson County High School, said that no staff member, teacher or administrator is pleased with the loss in pay, but all understand the suffering economy.
“We are all thankful to have jobs that provide paychecks as well as benefits,” he said. “We are also thankful for the good system in which we work, and are in agreement that collectively sharing the furlough burden is the route we’d rather take as opposed to cutting positions or programs.”
Chelf said losing the pre-planning day this week does put a “time crunch on our preparation for the beginning of school.”
“But the county can rest assured that we will do what is necessary to get the job done in order to be prepared for the arrival of students next week,” he said.
Porter said that he has received “overwhelmingly positive responses” from many employees throughout the system, and is thankful for their understanding.
“We understand their families, just as all families, are under economic pressures and burdens,” he said. “They have been wonderful and easy to work with throughout these tough times.”
For each day teachers statewide are furloughed, the state saves about $33 million, said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
The state Board of Education paved the way for systems to furlough teachers and other employees last week by voting to allow districts to lower the teacher work year to 187 days.
The school districts are not required to enact the furloughs, but the state is cutting the sum of those days’ salaries from the districts’ funding.
While some of the state’s largest districts — Atlanta, Cobb and DeKalb — are finding other ways to make up the funding cut, most of the state’s 180 school districts are expected to go along with the furloughs.
E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.