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City Pages

The Clarke County School Board last week approved a tentative budget that includes more than $7 million in cuts, including first grade and media center paraprofessionals throughout the district, plus special education teachers, a nurse and a psychologist.

Even with the cuts, the school district’s $117 million proposed budget is still about $7 million short. That’s because, as Superintendent Phil Lanoue explained to the board, going into Fiscal Year 2013, the district needed about $125 million just to maintain its expenses from the previous year—with health insurance premiums, teacher retirement benefits and required teacher pay increases costing an additional $4.3 million. With an expected $110 million in funding from federal, state and local sources, that means, even with the proposed cuts, the district will have to pull from its reserves to balance the budget for FY2013.

The school district has had to work with steadily decreasing budgets of late, thanks in large part to repeated “austerity cuts” the state began about five years ago, Lanoue said. Since he started with the district in 2009, Lanoue said the state has reduced what it appropriates to Clarke County schools by $27 million.

In order to bring the budget closer to its $110 million target, proposed reductions include increasing last year’s three furlough days to five, and an across-the-board 2 percent reduction in operational costs. The district also will save $1 million on its workers’ compensation insurance premium.

But the most contentious of the cuts come from positions that deal directly with students. The budget proposes eliminating 32 first-grade paraprofessional positions and 16 media center parapros, plus two special education teachers, two speech pathologists, a social worker, a psychologist and a nurse, for a savings of $1.5 million.

Eight elementary teachers, eight middle school and 11 high school teacher positions will also be eliminated. Lanoue maintained these reductions follow enrollment trends, and said the district will be hiring additional foreign language teachers to reflect demand from students. “We met with the schedulers and went through the numbers,” Lanoue said when School Board President Charles Worthy questioned why English, science and math teachers would be cut. “We went through our class size numbers, [and] they’re still very reasonable.”

He also opened the door to using Title I money for each school—federal grants based on free and reduced-price lunch numbers—to hire back parapros. But that decision would be left to the schools, which earmark the money each year for specific supplies and staff.

Other cost reductions come from re-evaluating enrollment, class trends and various programs. For example, nearly $500,000 was saved by reducing contracts with the alternative educator Ombudsman due to fewer students in the program, and $117,000 by putting building services and custodial services under one manager, reducing one administrative position.

The public can weigh in on the proposed budget at three public hearings before it’s finalized at the June 14 school board meeting. The meetings are May 15 at Alps Road Elementary, May 22 at Gaines School Elementary and May 24 at the district office on Mitchell Bridge Road. All meetings are from 6-7 p.m.

In other school board news, District 3 will need a new representative. At the meeting last week, Rev. David Nunnally turned his resignation. In a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal, Nunnally cited health problems as his reason for stepping down. The pastor has served on the board since 1992, and his term was set to expire in December of 2014.

“Due to changes in my health condition beyond my control, I feel it’s time for me to resign gracefully from the position and allow someone else who has the time, energy and opportunity to serve the district,” wrote Nunnally in the letter.

Worthy, who read the letter to the board in Nunnally’s absence, said he would consult with the board’s attorney about the process for replacing Nunnally, and board members will discuss the next steps at their May meeting.