Final schools budget requires 42 layoffs, down from 69

School board also OKs principal recommendations

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJune 16, 2014 

As promised last week, superintendent David Lewis on Monday night delivered a fiscal year 2015 budget to the Muscogee County School Board that includes laying off fewer school-based employees than originally announced. The board also approved hiring three principals and the lateral transfer of five more principals.

Instead of the 69 layoffs that were in the preliminary budget the board approved June 2, board members passed the $264,717,610 budget -- $5.9 million (2.2 percent) less than the fiscal year 2014 original budget -- that now requires 42 layoffs.

The budget numbers didn't change, but the layoff number did because the central office received word of more retirements and resignations, Lewis said. In fact, Lewis said after the meeting, he expects the layoffs ultimately to be even fewer, thanks to more attrition before the school year starts in August. And he continued to vow that the laid-off employees who are certified and qualified will receive the first chance to interview for open 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, Kathy Tessin, the district's human resources chief has said.

School-based employees among those layoffs are teachers, counselors and media specialists, Tessin has said. Lewis reaffirmed after the meeting that 19 of the layoffs are for teachers who have received poor performance evaluations or aren't certified or qualified for any available positions.

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. The millage rate remains at 23.37 for the 18th straight year, and there will be 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, chief financial officer Sharon 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 budget uses $10 million of reserve to make up for the revenue shortfall and increased expenses, such as health insurance, teacher retirement system, utilities and textbooks. That leaves $19.7 million of fund balance, which covers about 26 days of operations, Adams has said.

As he did two weeks ago during the preliminary budget vote, District 2 representative John Wells, who faces John F. Thomas in the July 22 runoff, urged the board to use some of the "fat bank account" to cancel the layoffs.

"We have 26 days," he said. "It will take only 2½ days to save these teachers."

But his proposal didn't even get a vote this time as no other board member present supported it. Wells cast the lone opposing vote in the 5-1 approval of the budget. Chairman Rob Varner of District 5, vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, Athavia "A.J." Senior of District 3, Naomi Buckner of District 4 and Mark Cantrell of District 6 voted for approval.

Green called Wells' proposal a short-term "Band-Aid" instead of the "sustainable" solution the district needs.

Cantrell said teachers called him to say they would prefer to have furlough days than seeing colleagues lose their jobs, but Green reminded him the board's budget parameters include no furlough days after "overwhelmingly" hearing opposition to them, and Adams said furloughs wouldn't be financially feasible this year.

Principals hired

The board approved Lewis' recommendation to hire three principals:

Carver High assistant principal Craig Fitts to replace the deceased Chris Cox.

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary assistant principal Carla Henry to replace the resigning Joe Myles.

Tujuana Wiggins, the principal of Deer Chase Elementary in Hephzibah, to replace the retiring Penny Thornton.

The board approved Fitts and Henry in 6-0 votes. Wells cast the lone opposing vote against Wiggins. He explained that he isn't against the individual but he is against hiring someone from outside the district while teachers are being laid off.

In April, the board approved Lewis' recommendation to hire Wiggins' husband, T.W. Josey Comprehensive High School principal Ronald Wiggins, as one of the district's regional chiefs. Deer Chase and Josey are in the Richmond County School System.

Lewis said after the meeting that Tujuana Wiggins wasn't promised a job in Muscogee when her husband was hired here. A Georgia Department of Education official along with Lewis and regional chief Terry Baker interviewed Tujuana Wiggins and one internal candidate, Lewis said. The state representative was added, Lewis said, because Fox received a School Improve Grant. Lewis also noted Tujuana Wiggins was the only applicant with principal experience and she moved Deer Chase from the Needs Improvement list to making Adequate Yearly Progress.

In the consent agenda, the board unanimously approved Lewis' lateral transfers of five principals:

Eddy Middle principal Johnny Freeman to Spencer High.

Spencer High principal Reginald Griffin to the AIM alternative school at Edgewood.

AIM principal Eddie Lindsey III to Key Elementary.

Key principal Karen Garner to replace the retiring Angi Idel at Allen Elementary.

Blackmon Road principal Marty Richburg to replace James Wilson at Northside High. Wilson was promoted to regional chief in April.

Blackmon Road and Eddy are the remaining principal vacancies to be filled.

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

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