Days off with no pay cost teachers

Furloughs mean less money, training time

After a full day teaching at T. Harry Garrett Ele­mentary School, Kimberly Moore drives across town for her second job.

She spends four evenings a week tutoring students at Sunshine Tutoring and Learning Center, trying to recoup the money she lost from the nine furlough days implemented this school year.

The single mother of two has 16 years’ experience, a master’s degree and passion, but her qualifications don’t exempt her from the state budget crisis that has been passed down to local school districts.

“As a single parent, it was difficult to begin with, but with the furloughs, I had no choice but to get another job,” Moore said. “Paychecks change, but bills don’t change.”

Richmond County implemented nine furlough days this year to help alleviate a $23.6 million state funding cut. The furloughs work out to an average loss of $2,476 for instructors, fewer training days for teachers and less class time for students.

Today is the sixth furlough day this year, with the rest scheduled for Tuesday, March 16 and May 23.

“To me, it feels like they’re just slicing and dicing and not taking into consideration that people have to survive,” Moore said. “We have responsibilities and expenses, and those don’t change. It seems like they ought to do something else.”

Anita Faglier, the director of finance and accounting for the Richmond County school system, said the state has underfunded the district by $100 million since 2003 as economic conditions worsened. During the budget process, the staff has to determine where cuts can be made but realize some actions, such as furloughs, are unavoidable.

“You reach a point to where you have nothing else you can cut,” Faglier said. “With 89 percent of your budget personnel, you have to cut across the board.”

Of the nine furlough days, five originally were professional learning days, which are set aside to provide training for teachers, and four were normal class days.

Though students lose instruction time, the furloughs have been a double hit for teachers because they lose money and miss out on training, said Stacey Mabray, the district’s interim director of curriculum and instruction.

Teachers now have to squeeze in professional learn­ing after school or during planning time, but they lost five full days that would have been dedicated to strategy refinement and technology training.

“That set pack of days to work with teachers when they’re not being pulled away from students is gone,” Mabray said.

“It’s just like a medical doctor who reads medical journals and goes to conferences. You have to spend time honing your profession so you get better.”

In dealing with the budget shortfall, acting Super­in­ten­dent James Whitson said much was done to avoid the cuts. Before turning to furloughs, the district cut back on energy expenses, moved items from the general budget to the federal budget, didn’t purchase new textbooks, cut supply money to schools and even took $10 million from the reserve fund.

“Furloughs are pretty much a last resort,” Whitson said.

As the district prepares to work on the budget for the 2012-13 school year, Josephine Lane, an English/language arts instructor at Gar­rett, said teachers are worried the situation will get worse. She understands the money isn’t there, but the classroom should be un­touch­able because of its effect on students, she said.

“We have students who eat most of their meals at school,” Lane said. “We have a population that may not have dinner at home. We have a student population that needs to be immersed in as much learning as possible, and this takes that away.”

Moore said she sees her students suffer, while personally it hasn’t been any easier. After working two jobs, Moore gets home to pack the next day’s lunches, iron clothes, cook dinner, help her 12-year-old with homework and work with her 2-year-old.

“It would be easier with one job,” Moore said. “I go to work every day and I enjoy what I do, but I have to look at my children because they’re going to have to go to college one day. Will I be able to afford for them to go?”

 

BY THE NUMBERS

9

Furlough days in 2011-12, including today and Tuesday

 

$2,476

Average loss for instructors

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