The Richmond County school system is digging into the wallets of its employees -- again -- to get itself out of a $7.2 million financial hole.
Superintendent Dana Bedden announced plans Tuesday to offset the deficit by furloughing all employees one day. The action is a result of plummeting state revenues and a school board decision not to raise property taxes.
The furlough day is on top of four days of pay already taken from teachers and four furlough days given other employees. Teachers won't report to work Feb. 15, designated as a professional development day. To compensate for the other days, teachers will be allowed to work 15 minutes less each day.
"Many of them will continue to work beyond the call of duty, and I applaud them for that," Dr. Bedden said.
Last week Gov. Sonny Perdue detailed plans to balance the state's budget in the wake of a projected $900 million shortfall. He announced he would withhold 3 percent from the state's education funding formula and the equivalent of three furlough days for all state-funded school employees.
Other measures planned to offset the Richmond County shortfall include: Selling the old Hornsby and Sue Reynolds elementary schools; increasing class size for early intervention programs; and pulling $4.4 million from reserves.
Taking money from the reserve fund leaves it dangerously low, Dr. Bedden said. It will be less than a month's payroll. School lunch prices could also rise again, he said.
Dr. Bedden said the cuts will directly affect instruction and employees, but it's his top concern to limit the effect as much as he can.
He has avoided layoffs through the latest round of cuts, saying it's crucial for the economy to come out of a recession. The system's 5,000 employees need to keep working, earning paychecks and contributing to the economy, he has said.
Since becoming superintendent less than two years ago, he has cut $60 million from the budget. Since last year, the budget has been reduced 12 percent, or $32 million.
"I want to make no mistake. This will hurt," Dr. Bedden said.
On Tuesday, the Georgia Board of Education waived its requirement that teachers work 190 days. The move allows school systems the flexibility to furlough teachers up to 10 days but doesn't reduce the 180 instructional days.
State Attorney General Thurbert Baker's office is reviewing how furloughs affect teachers' retirement, spokesman Russ Willard said.
Dr. Bedden said the county will continue to allow employees the option of receiving their full pay and writing a check back to the school system in the amount of their pay cut. That will ensure that their retirement isn't harmed by the cuts.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WANT TO HELP?
Richmond County schools Superintendent Dana Bedden said it's time for the community to come together and stop assigning blame. He encouraged residents to get involved.
VOLUNTEER: Call the school system's professional learning department at (706) 826-1000.
CONTRIBUTE: Call Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce at (706) 821-1300 and ask about the education foundation.