Thursday, May 7, 2009

State cuts hit Camden schools

In the fallout of losing $8.8 million in state funding, the Camden County Board of Education has sliced a total of four teaching positions at the elementary and middle school grade levels so far in this budget season.

More cuts are likely to follow as a team at the board's administrative office continues to meticulously comb through the budget with critical eyes examining every program, said Superintendent Dr. Will Hardin. Nothing is immune from consideration for the chopping block in the wake of deepening state funding cuts totaling $8.8 million.

Although four full-time teachers and six part-time retired teachers were notified that their positions are on the list of likely cuts, Hardin said nothing on the budget cut list is final until the board votes on May 12 during its regular meeting.

"Athletics, after school programs, academic programs, everything is being reviewed," Hardin said. "This is a dynamic process because the numbers we are hearing from the state seem to change weekly."

Hardin said the school system notified 10 individuals on April 10 that their positions were on the budget cut list even though the list isn't final until the 2009-2010 budget is approved next month.

"We thought it was only fair to go ahead and let them know so they would have the opportunity to look for other employment, and I also explained that we hope to invite them back as employees if at all possible," Hardin said. "We didn't have to tell them until May 15, but we went ahead because we want to be fair to them."

The state determines the number of teaching positions to fund for all school systems based on number and types of students. This year, as the recession continues to tighten its grip on state coffers, Gov. Sonny Perdue increased the number of students allowed in classrooms at the middle and elementary school grade levels. Increasing class sizes resulted in a reduction in the number of teachers the state has agreed to fund for these grade levels for the upcoming fiscal year.

Hardin said this was a factor that played into determining which positions would be cut.

"I will not be happy until we are able to ask these four teachers back as full-time employees by the way of attrition or by the way of finding other alternative funding sources," Hardin said.

When the BOE was faced with state cuts of funding for a total of 43 teaching positions in Camden County, Hardin said the budget team began scrambling at the administrative office to save as many positions as possible by making cuts at the top first.

Positions such as director of policy and public information held by Michael Wooden and the public relations director position held by John La Boone were the first cuts to be announced earlier this year. Wooden will be moving to the principal position at Woodbine Elementary School starting in the fall, and La Boone is retiring.

After the first round of administrative cuts and slicing expenses at the administrative office, the budget team then cut six part-time positions held by retired teachers. Also. seven full-time teachers were offered full-time substitute teaching positions and will be paid based on experience.

"We decided that cutting six part-time positions held by retired teachers who are supplementing their incomes was more fair than cutting more of the first-year teachers," Hardin said. "Full-time substitute teachers don't have the same advantages as full-time teachers such as a permanent classroom, or a homeroom, but offering them positions based on experience like this was a better option than sending them home."

Then the budget team resorted to cutting four full-time teachers based on hire date, Hardin said. If by chance the attrition that typically opens a handful of positions each year happens as usual this year, the board will offer any freshly vacated positions to the four individuals who have been cut first based on qualification.

"Every year spouses get transferred or people leave for other reasons. It is very uncommon for us to not have at least four positions that become available over the summer due to attrition," Hardin said.

After calculating all of these cuts, Hardin said the budget team is within $200,000 of its goal. At this point the team is now examining 74 programs, each of which could be considered for cuts.

"Considering what we've been faced with I think we have done a good job. We started out with the loss of funding for 43 and we've made enough cuts elsewhere to save all but four of those full-time positions," Hardin said.

As the budget season unfolds, more cuts will be announced, Hardin said. The board will discuss the proposed budget at the work session scheduled for 6 p.m. May 7 and will vote on it May 12.

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