School board approves high school schedule change

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 17, 2014 

The Muscogee County School District administration building is at 2960 Macon Road.

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

The Muscogee County School Board took longer to honor the Kendrick High School girls basketball state championship team Monday night than it did to approve two major changes the superintendent has proposed.

After discussing superintendent David Lewis’ recommendations for more than three hours during last week’s work session, the board breezed through the action agenda with a series of unanimous votes that included reducing the high school schedules from eight periods to seven and reorganizing the central office administration.

Faced with a projected $10 million budget gap for next fiscal year, Lewis has estimated the district can save $4 million to $4.5 million by changing from the eight-period schedule to seven periods because it will allow decreasing the high school staff by as much as 15 percent. He has said he intends to do that through attrition and reassignments, but he can’t guarantee there won’t be layoffs.

Since the work session, in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer, chief financial officer Sharon Adams clarified the projected $10 million budget gap comprises $1 million less in state revenue, plus projected increased expenditures in salary steps, teacher retirement, health insurance, textbooks and utilities. This year’s budget is $270,596,469.

Lewis said last week that, if the board didn’t approve the new schedule, the alternative probably would be furlough days for all teachers. A furlough day saves the district between $800,000 and $1 million, he has said.

The proposal began last spring under interim superintendent John Phillips, who determined the district couldn’t afford the eight-period schedule any longer, chief academic officer Ronie Collins said last week. So the high school principals and their leadership teams met during the past year, and Lewis, who was hired in July from Polk County, Fla., picked up the torch.

Assistant superintendent Rebecca Braaten, who joined Lewis here from Polk County, told the board last week that 65 percent of the state’s high schools are on seven-period schedules, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Starting next school year, the new schedule will give Muscogee's high school students only four periods per day: three 90-minute classes meeting every other school day and one 50-minute class meeting every school day. That will total seven courses during the academic year.

The new schedule will provide more common planning time for teachers and what the administration calls Increased Learning Time (ILT) for students. Instead of offering remediation and acceleration for students after school, ILT will reserve time for those services during the school day. It also will allow students to make up missed tests, lab activities and assignments. They can learn test-taking strategies, clarify previous lessons and pursue credit recovery. ILT also can be used for activities that normally meet after school, such as clubs.

Lewis said one resident criticized his proposal as “going for the minimum.” But the new schedule still will give students five more credits than the state requires to graduate (28 compared to 23), he said.

Cathy Williams, the nine-member board’s lone county-wide representative, lauded Lewis for taking the time to answer her questions and those she forwarded from her constituents.

Board vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 praised Lewis for involving “the people in the trenches,” the principals, in developing the proposal.

District 2 representative John Wells said the board’s budget parameters seek another year without furlough days. “That could have been as much as eight days this year,” he said.

Lewis thanked board members and residents for their support and questions.

“Every board member here has had questions regarding this, and I appreciate that, because it is indeed important,” he said. “I also want to convey my thanks and appreciation to our principals as well.”

The central office reorganization includes dividing the district into three regions – west, central and east – and creating three positions called “region chiefs” to be responsible for the schools in their region. Certain administrators also will be assigned to each region. All of which will make administrators more closely connected with the schools and give the schools a more personal connection to the central office, Lewis has said. He also has said the regions will help combat the real and perceived disparities between the district’s north and south schools.

Williams asked Lewis to confirm again Monday night that his reorganization plan is “budget neutral.” Lewis replied, “Yes, it is.”

Williams earlier in the meeting noted Lewis “promised us when we interviewed him, and he’s holding true to that promise, to really put a microscope to this district and to ensure that we are doing what we need to do efficiently and effectively.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkRiceLE.

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