School returns today in Richmond County to a new year marked with forced adjustments and doing more with less.
Facing rising expenses and continued state funding cuts topping more than $150 million over the past 10 years, reductions were made at the school level to make up the losses.
Fifty-six non-teacher layoffs were made while 79 positions were eliminated through attrition, according to the human resources department. All laid off employees given 35-day notices will work until Sept. 4, but the central office is still trying to find leftover money in the budget to save some of those jobs before their final day.
All schools will be held to stricter standards for energy consumption to meet a goal of saving $500,000 across the district this year.
Benton Starks, the senior director of facilities and maintenance, said his department will be reviewing utility bills with principals every month to discuss usage. A team will drive to schools at night to find out which lights are being left on.
“We have a whole dedicated team to get down in the weeds, in the numbers,” Starks said. “We’re telling schools to take what you need but don’t use what you don’t need. It’s the waste we’re trying to improve on. Lights left on are not helping anybody but stockholders at Southern Co.”
Most schools built or renovated in the past decade have sensors that switch lights and air conditioners off when a room is empty. The others are being asked to make adjustments:
• Propping the foyer door open so children can file out during dismissal can cost $10 an hour in energy.
• If someone forgets to switch the lights off at Lucy C. Laney High School’s football stadium after practice, that’s $250 an hour down the drain.
• If there’s a PTA event in the cafeteria after school, that doesn’t mean the lights to the entire building have to remain on.
Custodians will be hit hardest by the budget cuts, with 30 people set to be laid off. Sixteen paraprofessionals,
six media assistants and four secretaries were also given notice that their final day will be Sept. 4.
In May, Superintendent Frank Roberson directed all principals to suggest how to slash 7 percent of expenditures at their schools. Some principals promised to save an unrealistic amount on energy bills, while others thought they could do without some custodians.
Sue Reynolds Elementary will lose one part-time custodian, leaving it with three. Principal Cheri Ogden said the cuts were difficult on everyone, but an unavoidable process.
“We’re going to have to ask the people who didn’t get cut to do more, unfortunately,” Ogden said.
“He knows we value him,” she said of the laid-off custodian, “and if we had a choice we wouldn’t do it, but it’s seniority.”
Over the summer, the maintenance department and human resources worked with principals to narrow down
which cuts were possible.
Overall, the schools eliminated about 55 teaching positions, but all affected teachers will be sent to fill vacancies in other schools, resulting in no teacher layoffs, according to human resources coordinator Laura Bussiere.
The school board saved about $800,000 by adding a ninth furlough day to the budget approved in June. Bussiere said her department is still determining whether it can use some of that money to save some of the lost custodial, paraprofessional, media and clerical jobs.
“Our goal is to keep as many people as we can,” she said.
Starks said schools such as Hephzibah High, which eliminated four custodians, will not necessarily be left short-handed. Those lost positions could be replaced by shuffling more senior employees around the county.
Jenkins White Elementary Charter School Assistant Principal Cheryl Fry said losing two kindergarten paraprofessionals will be an adjustment this year. The parapros assist teachers by leading small-group work or helping students who are falling behind the rest of the class.
Her school is left with one parapro in pre-K and four for special education, which is required by law. Fry said her parapros will keep jobs by being transferred to another school.
“Everybody is going to have to work a lot harder,” she said. “We’re going to try to work smarter.”
A. Brian Merry Elementary School cut its only two kindergarten paraprofessionals, but they were able to keep their jobs by filling two vacant special education parapro positions.
“They were already vested in the school, they loved the kids, so to them it was like another assignment,” Principal Elizabeth Schad said. “Like I told my staff today, it’s just like a home budget. We have to do more with less, but we’re not going to sacrifice service for the kids.”