Teachers and staff in Muscogee County schools will have three days’ pay cut from their salaries and students will have an extra two days off from classes after the school board approved another round of furloughs during a meeting Tuesday night.
The calendar for the rest of this school yearwas changed and faculty and staff will work three fewer days to make up for a reduction in state funding. The school district is anticipating a $4.8 million cut in funding, including about $2 million in salaries before the fiscal year ends in June 30.
Traditional schools would be closed April 30, as well as May 21 and 24, days before the classes end for the summer on May 26. Year-round schools will be closed April 30 and June 10-11.
April 30 was already scheduled as an in-service day, when students would be out of classes, but teachers would work. Now, all students and employees will be off on the three furlough days.
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“I know I am not the only board member that feels this way, I am deeply sorry we are having to do this,” board member Brenda Storey said before the board unanimously approved the furloughs. “It’s not an easy thing to vote yes for. It’s one of those where you have no choice. It’s going to happen whether you vote or not.”
The furloughs mean another cut in pay for school district employees. Most employees, including teachers, administrators and the superintendent, lost three days’ pay last year, after Gov. Sonny Perdue announced he would withhold three days of state funding for salaries — about $2 million for Muscogee County. The school district designated Dec. 21, 22 and 23 as the furlough days. About 4,400 employees were furloughed in December 2009. The December furloughs did not affect employees that only work when students are in school, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
The second round of furloughs affects all employees, including about 370 cafeteria workers and 300 bus drivers, since schools will be closed two days. For a beginning bus driver, with a salary of about $10,580, that means a $170 pay cut. For a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree, the pay cut would be about $570 from a salary of $36,311.
For a teacher with 20 years experience and an educational specialist’s degree, the pay cut would be about $1,000 from a salary of $67,071.
For Superintendent Susan Andrews, who has a salary of $170,000, the pay cut totals more than $2,000. The reduction will be subtracted from payroll checks beginning March 2010, in order to stretch out the deduction in as many months as possible.
The furloughs and calendar adjustments place a burden on working parents, said one mother who spoke at the meeting.
“We are struggling to find day care options for children. We can’t come up with day care options that don’t cost money,” said Debbie Jackson, who has a child in first-grade. Jackson said she knows parents who struggle to find childcare during vacations, teacher in-service days and elementary early release days and the furloughs add more days.
“Why can’t we take furlough days and put them in the summer when people already have their kids in camp?”she said. She said she also didn’t understand why the district scheduled a winter break and started classes in August, during the hottest months of the year.
“We’re paying for air-conditioning in the school,” she said.
Later in the meeting, board member Norene Marvets said teachers and parents were struggling with scheduling and the calendar changes.
“I know it sent parents scrambling, but it sent the whole county scrambling,” she said.
Administrators first proposed scheduling two of the furlough days on April 1 and 2, two days before Spring Break. The Criterion Referenced Competency Test for first- through eighth-graders is scheduled to begin April 13, a week after spring break. Closing schools on April 1-2 would have given students two extra days of vacation before the state standardized test. The CRCT is crucial in determining if a school makes adequate yearly progress according to the guidelines under the federal No Child Left Behind Act; in some grades, the scores are also key in determining if a student is promoted. After receiving input from teachers and principals, administrators moved the furlough dates so schools wouldn’t be closed so close to testing.
The school district is calling the furlough days a “work schedule adjustment” per advice received from the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia.
The district will not have to add any time onto the school day to make up for instructional time, because students will still receive more instructional time than the state requires. The state Department of Education requires students to be in class between 48,600 and 59,400 minutes, depending on the grade level of the student; Muscogee County students receive between 58,740 and 69,420 minutes.
There could also be adjustments and work-day reductions to the 2010-2011 school calendar. The proposed parameters for preparing the budget for the 2011 fiscal year, also approved during the meeting, include developing a calendar that reduces the work schedule by six days, if necessary.