Fewer layoffs, more principal vacancies in Muscogee schools

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJune 9, 2014 

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

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

Next week's final version of the Muscogee County School District's fiscal year 2015 budget is expected to include fewer layoffs than last week's preliminary presentation. The administration also is preparing to recommend principals to fill vacancies at five schools.

Superintendent David Lewis and human resources chief Kathy Tessin wouldn't commit to a number, but both told the Ledger-Enquirer after Monday evening's Muscogee County School Board work session that further attrition in the district's staff should mean the school-based layoffs will be fewer than the 69 announced last Monday. In fact, Tessin said, one employee who was among those layoffs already has been rehired because of subsequent retirements and resignations.

“We’re working hard at it, believe me,” Lewis said. “If people only knew how hard we’re working on this, trying to get it done. … But my commitment remains the same: I am not going to put uncertified people in front of our kids, and we’re going to make sure we do things that are fiscally sound.”

Lewis also pledged that any laid-off employee “in good standing in the district, even throughout the summer, they will have the first right to interview for any positions for which they are certified and qualified.”

The board will vote on final adoption of the budget next Monday during its 6 p.m. meeting.

The category of school-based layoffs comprises teachers, counselors and media specialists, Tessin said. Lewis has said 19 of the original 69 layoffs are teachers who have received poor performance evaluations or aren’t certified or qualified for any available positions.

The administration also has reduced 44 district-level positions in Lewis' reorganization of the central office, but none of those job cuts had people in them because of attrition or reassignments, Tessin said last week.

The preliminary budget for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, projects $264,717,610 in expenditures -- $5.9 million (2.2 percent) less than the fiscal year 2014 original budget. The 69 layoffs in last week's presentation of the preliminary budget amount to about $7 million in savings, said Sharon Adams, the district's chief financial officer.

The budget also calls for closing the Patterson Planetarium and contracting with the Columbus State University Coca-Cola Space Science Center to teach those lessons.

Despite the district's school buildings averaging 43 years old and the support buildings averaging 64 years old, the set aside for capital projects has been slashed almost in half, from $1 million to $520,265.

The administration started its budget planning in January looking for between $10 million and $11 million in cuts to balance the budget after another year of increased costs (such as health insurance, teacher retirement system, utilities and textbooks) and decreased state and federal funding.

The budget keeps the millage rate at 23.37 for the 18th straight year and has no furlough days for the second straight year.

The district's allotment from the state is expected to be $143,550,332, which is about $1 million less than last year, Adams has said. Although the district is projecting a 1 percent increase in property tax revenue due to growth in the digest, several counties in the state are experiencing losses in their tax base, so Muscogee will lose $5.2 million in equalization funding from the state, she has said.

Overall, the district has lost a total of $155 million in state funding the past 13 years, Adams has said - more than a full year's worth of allotment.

The revenue sources for the district's FY15 budget are 56.4 percent from the state, 42.3 percent local, 1.3 percent federal and 0.1 percent other.

The expenditures break down like this: 80 percent for instruction and direct support; 10 percent for plant operations; 7 percent for general and administrative; 3 percent for other uses. Those percentages are the same as FY14.

The budget uses $10 million of reserve to balance the budget instead of the $20 million originally expected. That would leave $19.7 million of fund balance, which covers about 26 days of operations.

Retired teacher Ollie Tarver urged the board to use some of that reserve to cancel all layoffs.

Tarver, who was the only resident to speak during Monday’s public hearing on the budget, asked rhetorically, “Which is more important, the teachers or the money? … Do what’s right. All of us are going to answer to Him.”

No board member or administrator responded to Tarver’s comments. District 2 representative John Wells, however, also advocated using the reserve to cancel the layoffs during last Monday’s called meeting, but Beth Harris of District 8 was the only other member to support his proposal.

Principal vacancies

The five principal vacancies Tessin said will be filled with Lewis’ pending recommendations for the board at Monday’s meeting are:

• Spencer High School, because Reginald Griffin is being transferred to an undisclosed position.

• Blackmon Road Middle School, because, as previously reported, Marty Richburg is replacing James Wilson at Northside and Wilson was promoted to be one of the district’s three regional chiefs.

• Double Churches Middle School, because of the death of Chris Cox.

• Davis Elementary School, because of the resignation of Joe Myles.

• Fox Elementary School, because of the retirement of Penny Thornton.

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

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