Richmond schoolteachers facing more furloughs to trim budget

All Richmond County school employees, including teachers, will be furloughed one day, Superintendent Dana Bedden announced this afternoon during a news conference on how he plans to offset a $7.2 million shortfall.

The furlough day is on top of four days of pay already taken from teachers and four furlough days given to other employees. To compensate, teachers will be allowed to work 15 minutes less each day.

The news comes a week after Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue detailed his plans to balance the state’s budget in wake of a projected $900 million shortfall. He announced that 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.

This morning, the Georgia Board of Education voted to waive its requirement that teachers and similar certified staff members work 190 days, allowing local school systems the flexibility to furlough these workers.

The governor’s cuts added to Richmond County’s existing $1.1 million shortfall, the result of the school board holding the line on taxes and voting not to shift the burden to property owners.

Other measures planned to offset the 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 the fund dangerously low, Dr. Bedden said. It will be less than a month’s payroll.

Dr. Bedden said all of the cuts will directly affect instruction and employees, although it was his top concern to avoid impacting these areas as much as possible. The superintendent encouraged the community to get involved in Richmond County education by volunteering or contributing financially to a foundation established through the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Bedden has avoided laying anyone off through the latest round of cuts, saying it’s crucial for the economy to come out of a recession. The school system’s 5,000 employees need to keep working, earning a paycheck and contributing to the economy.

Since becoming superintendent less than two years ago, he has now 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.

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