North Georgia schools administrators are struggling with budgets this week, with some cutting jobs and programs as state revenue projections grow dimmer.
Whitfield County slashed 113 positions and cut salaries across the board for next year. Dalton Public Schools eliminated 52 posts. Dade County's financial picture is developing but is grim, officials said.
Systems in Catoosa, Chickamauga and Walker counties won't cut any people this year other than those who plan to retire or resign, officials said.
Today is the deadline for teacher contracts, and local school system budgets will be finalized in July.
"It is bad, really bad," said Dade Superintendent Patty Priest. "I have been in this business over 42 years and this is the worst economic situation I have ever seen."
State education spending is expected to be about $6.9 billion in fiscal 2011, about $950 million less than what's called for by Georgia's Quality Basic Education funding formula, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
The shortfall means larger classes, salary cuts and layoffs, reports from the institute state. And state economists project years of weak revenue, saying Georgia won't return to 2007 revenue levels until 2014.
On Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Labor announced special efforts to help laid-off teachers and school employees, including employment workshops in Dalton and elsewhere.
Whitfield County approved the job cuts and salary reductions Thursday night as officials attempt to offset a $13.4 million shortfall in state and local revenue for 2010-11. That's the deficit even after the system uses all its fund balance, officials said.
School board chairman Tim Trew said district leaders have been consolidating services and improving efficiency since 2005.
"If we hadn't been doing that, then I would be concerned at this time that we would be cutting into the educational opportunities that we're providing," he said.
Despite the cuts, he said services in the classroom are "not being compromised."
Board members on Thursday approved a proposal to reduce support staff by 4.8 percent, certified staff by 7.5 percent and administrative staff by 10.5 percent.
That means 26 lunchroom monitors, 10 bus drivers, a member of the system's technology team and a benefits coordinator will be cut from support staff.
Seventy-five full-time positions will be cut among certified staff, which includes teachers, officials said. About half those will come through retirements and resignations, officials said.
And eight full-time administrators, including posts for an assistant superintendent, three assistant principals, a finance director, curriculum improvement director and special education coordinator, will be eliminated. All but one of those positions will be managed through attrition, officials said.
Staff reductions will save $5 million, shortened employee work schedules save $3.9 million, salary and benefits reductions save $2.9 million and a cut in operating expenses saves $1.4 million.
Schools Superintendent Jim Hawkins said this week that Dalton will save $3 million by cutting 60 people from 52 positions, $1.9 million by trimming 10 days from employees' annual work schedule and five from the school calendar, and $600,000 from reducing or restructuring other services and programs.
About half of Dalton schools' revenue comes from the state and the rest comes from local sources, officials said.
Dr. Hawkins said officials last year trimmed $5 million without cutting jobs, but now the system must cut another $5 million for 2011 and plan for $2 million more in cuts in 2012.
Of 60 people affected, some are retiring or resigning and some will enter job-sharing arrangements or work part time, officials said.
Mrs. Priest said job losses are certain as the four-school system tries to offset state and local cuts nearing $1 million.
"We've got to make some major cuts, and when you make those cuts it affects teachers' lives, it affects every aspect of the school system," she said. She said four positions likely will be cut, but the impact on teachers is unclear at this point.
Retirements and resignations among 17 teachers helped Dade trim $350,000, Mrs. Priest said. Some supplements were cut, the employee annual work schedule was cut by 10 days for administrators and central office staff and by seven days for other employees, and the school year was reduced five days to save $481,000. Reduced dental benefits save another $115,000, she said.
"We're expecting to be short about $969,000," she said. "We can handle it one more time,; then we're in trouble. This is one of the worst years that I've ever seen, and I started in education in 1968."
Walker County won't have to cut any jobs thanks to reductions in past years and retirements and resignations expected this year, officials said.
"We've tried to trim each year. We tried to plan ahead," Finance Director Phyllis Copeland said. This year, "we're utilizing our fund balance to make ends meet."
Certification specialist Christy Hall said teachers currently on the rolls have nothing to fear when contracts are issued this week. But the future of 43 positions - 12 retirements and 32 resignations - is still undecided, Ms. Hall said.
"Right now, we're not sure whether those positions will be filled," she said.
No teacher jobs will be lost in Catoosa County Public Schools this year, but lower kindergarten enrollment could mean fewer paraprofessionals, spokeswoman Marissa Brower said.
She said some help came when 14 teachers retired and eight resigned.
When state austerity measures began in 2003, schools officials started reducing operation expenses and employee benefits and raising millage rates. Jobs were cut in 2008 and 2009 and annual work schedules were shortened, Ms. Brower said.
"Our county is experiencing an economic recession, and Georgia revenues have suffered significantly," Superintendent Denia Reese said in an e-mail. Catoosa's employees "have been willing to take personal financial losses to maintain jobs and the financial stability of our system."
Financial Director Diane Miller said Chickamauga City Schools is cutting 2.5 teaching positions next year. She said three teachers are retiring and one is resigning.
But two of the retirees are returning to work half-time, Ms. Miller said, which reduces the impact.
She said officials have cut about $175,000 in expenses to offset state budget cuts.
Chickamauga has not increased its millage rate since 2003, she said, but city officials are studying a tax increase.
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