The March 30 called meeting was the result of the board’s March 10 meeting held in its board conference room. Parents and concerned citizens packed the board room and spilled out into the halls and parking lot of the Board of Education building.
This week’s meeting was announced at that time to accommodate the large number of people who wanted to be heard about the possible loss of nine teachers, which included a football coach.
The first item on the meeting’s agenda was to approve a reduction in force (RIF) plan in order to qualify for federal stimulus money. LeBrun said he met with affected teachers earlier to explain what was going to happen at the meeting.
“We are looking at receiving IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funds from the federal stimulus money. Seven to 9 percent of our budget comes from the federal government. That has increased, and that’s what we’ve been looking for,” he said.
The superintendent said the school system has to first enact an RIF to be eligible for the stimulus money, and the action previously taken of eliminating positions put Jones County ahead of the game.
“We’re handing out contracts in April, and the teachers on the bubble will not receive a contract. But we will be able to give them one at a later meeting. The feds are telling other school systems to do what we have already done,” he said.
LeBrun reiterated that the school system has to document that the lost positions are due to the lack of state funding. He said the teachers hired back will be placed in different positions.
“We have to do away with the positions and hire them back with federal money. We have to follow the regulations connected to the stimulus money,” he said.
The estimated amount of federal stimulus money Jones County could receive is $219,000 for IDEA; $219,000 for software, hardware and technology; and $179,000 for personnel.
The superintendent spent about 15 minutes explaining the school system’s budget and provided members of the audience with a handout showing a total net loss in revenue from the state for the 2009 and 2010 school years of $3,310,007.
LeBrun said personnel is 86 percent of the school system’s budget, and he explained the reason construction of a new elementary is continuing despite the loss of funds.
“We would lose $5.5 million in entitlement dollars from the state Jones County has earned if we don’t build the school this year. With those dollars, we are in effect building the school at half price. Contractors are looking for work, and we expect competitive bids,” LeBrun said. “It’s a good time for commercial building.”
The superintendent said the state created the Quality Based Education standard, which provides adequate funding for education, but the last time it was fully funded was the year it was created, 1984.
“We’ve been cut during good years. Now that the economy is in crisis, they are body slamming us. This is not a Jones County issue; it’s every county in the state,” he added.
LeBrun said comparatively Jones County is in good shape, and the school system’s 14.25 millage rate is low.
Nineteen people asked questions at the meeting, and many had done research on the salaries and positions of the Central Office staff. Several of the complaints focused on the travel expenses of the board members and superintendent, suggesting that meetings should be held in Jones County.
The board is, however, mandated to attend 12 hours of training per year to retain their positions, and that training is not available in Jones County.
Those who desired to speak to the board were given two minutes each, and Bradley Skinner was the first. He read part of a prepared statement that accused all the board members of having errors on travel allotment documents and holding the reimbursement requests too long.
He said school system retreats should not be held out of the county, and he made the point that most teachers pay for learning materials for their students out of their pockets. Skinner also said part-time central office staffers should not be making more than full-time teachers.
LeBrun responded that this year’s retreats were held in Jones County.
Ginger Bailey, a Gray Elementary School teacher who was one of those notified that her position was eliminated, suggested Title One funds be shared among the schools in the system. She also asked that a letter be added to the files of those displaced because of budget issues explaining the reason their contracts were not renewed.
LeBrun said the funding is being spread around as much as possible and agreed to placing a letter of explanation in the teachers’ files.
“We hope no letter is necessary because we want to find positions for everyone,” he added.
Traci Powers, a second-grade teacher who was told she would be moved to another position, was concerned she may not be certified to teach the new position. Assistant Superintendent Mike Newton said a review will be performed to make sure the teachers are certified.
Michelle Rule said she appreciated the effort of the board to keep people informed, but she pointed out that, when teachers travel from school to school for required training, they are not paid mileage.
LeBrun said that is true, and he will look into it.
Wanda Delk questioned that any principal would choose to cut football coaches, and Donna Malcolm asked how the Ninth Grade Academy will function with the loss of one of four physical education, health, and weight training teachers.
LeBrun said he received a schedule from the school’s principal, and all the classes were covered.
Kevin Kerr took the opportunity to support the graduation and academic coaches. He said the coaches help the students reach their graduation goals.
“I would love to have the time to spend with the students, but I don’t have it,” he said. “The program is helpful and is really going well. I hope you will bear that in mind.”
LeBrun said he is committed to keeping the graduation and academic coaches. He said the principals have told him these are valued positions, and they are in the budget, as well as school nurses.
Beth Jackson asked who was in charge and wanted to know the plan of restoring the school system’s good name. LeBrun explained that no personnel action is final until it goes before the board, but he is in charge of the day-to-day operation.
“Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. If we attempt to destroy from within, it’s hard to overcome. I hope by giving information and meetings like this, we can collectively maintain our good name,” he said. “My goal is to do nothing but improve upon where we are. The economy is causing us to rethink what we are doing. If it’s not right, we are going to correct.”
Bert King said Gray Elementary seems to have received a disproportionate hit and asked how the positions were eliminated. LeBrun said more GES positions are not funded by the state and other schools had more teachers leaving through attrition. He also said state guidelines were used.
Lynn Dugger suggested the board should make cuts from the top down instead of the bottom up and received a loud round of applause from the audience.
The remaining speakers included a NGA student stating that her entire class failed a math test, and it was then graded on a curve. She objected to the policy of passing students instead of finding the reason they failed.
Ben Brooks pointed out that Bibb County is five times as big as Jones but has only twice as many central office employees, and Thomas White advocated for the football program.
Tracy Gattie asked to be last to speak. She suggested that using seniority to decide the teachers who were renewed may not be the best way. She also said Georgia Power and Tri-County EMC both told her they would help the school with energy management for a lot less than the school system’s current energy management contract.
The Board of Education’s next scheduled meeting is at 7 p.m., April 14, in the board’s conference room.