Budget proposal could hurt pupils

A proposal to help offset a $13 million budget shortfall in Richmond County schools could affect pupils most in need of academic help. The school system's Early Intervention Program, a practice designed to provide extra help for youngsters not performing at grade level in reading or math, would likely be weakened by budget decisions, according to documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle .

Richmond County school officials are expected to discuss the budget proposal during Thursday's meeting, and would not comment Tuesday.

Dr. Virginia Bradshaw, the assistant superintendent for instructional services, directed questions about the proposed changes to EIP Coordinator Jenà Kinnitt. However, Ms. Kinnitt said Superintendent Dana Bedden would answer questions after a public presentation is made Thursday.

In May, Ms. Kinnitt led a committee of Richmond County educators who reviewed how best to administer the program while keeping money in mind, according to minutes of the meeting, which were shown to The Chronicle. Currently, EIP teachers float from classroom to classroom and collaborate with other teachers. The new proposal calls for the teachers to be stationed in a classroom with only EIP students -- what educators call "self-contained" instruction.

The proposal aims to reduce the number of EIP teachers and increase the amount of state funding for the program.

Dr. Bedden acknowledged it could hurt academic performance.

"Dr. Bedden has clearly said that self-contained was not the best model but we need to look at funding," according to the minutes of the committee's meeting. "We have to make hard choices to see what we can afford."

Augusta State University education professor Paulette Harris, who works closely with Richmond County schools, said that she has heard complaints about the proposed changes, but teachers tell her they aren't expected to be as drastic as first thought.

Dr. Harris said augmented teachers are preferred, and that these teachers are exposed to more students.

A school funding crunch is not just a Richmond County problem.

Savannah-Chatham County, similar to Richmond County in size and demographics, has cut 29 central office positions. The central office is much "leaner," spokesman Bucky Burnsed said.

Muscogee County, which includes Columbus, implemented across-the-board cuts to offset a million-dollar shortfall.

And Atlanta has turned to the private sector for funding. Atlanta City Public Schools tapped into millions of dollars of additional revenue, including $22.5 million last year from General Electric, to fund a multiyear program.

"Essentially, we have been forced to do that because of state cutbacks," spokesman Joe Manguno said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

EARLY INTERVENTION

The purpose of the Early Intervention Program is to provide additional resources to help students who are performing below grade level obtain the necessary academic skills to reach grade-level performance in the shortest possible time.

Richmond County has 1,826 children receiving EIP services for reading, and 2,898 children receive EIP services for math.

Sources: Richmond County Board of Education and Georgia Department of Education


IF YOU GO

WHAT: Richmond County Board of Education budget hearing

WHEN: 1 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: School board central offices, 864 Broad St.