Cobb schools look at furlough days and other methods to close defecit
by Lindsay Field
March 22, 2013 12:00 AM | 11008 views | 65 65 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb Super Dr. Michael Hinojosa. MDJ Staff Photo
Cobb Super Dr. Michael Hinojosa. MDJ Staff Photo
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It may or may not have been intentional, but the Cobb County School Board learned what could be perceived as 13 not-so-lucky ideas to resolve the district’s anticipated $86.4 million deficit next school year.

Brad Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer, spent two hours talking to the board about the school district administration’s preliminary suggestions in order to keep Cobb Schools from going into debt in fiscal year 2014.

Prior to his presentation, Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa addressed the board about what they were about to see.

“The district staff has been working on this for the last two months. We expect you to be angry, mad or in denial,” he said. “This is the worst-case scenario and much different than last year.”

Hinojosa also said he is very confident that there would be no teacher layoffs in this budget.

Johnson’s initial suggestions include five furlough days and eliminating five instruction days at a savings of $15.5 million; not implementing a salary step for employees, $10 million; expanding the walking distance for students in elementary through high schools for bus pick-up to 1.5 miles, $4.6 million; using $22.2 million from the district’s reserves; and reducing teacher positions by 295 through attrition, $22.1 million.

“We tried to pick options where we thought that it could benefit our kids the best,” said Johnson.

And although the ideas were just preliminary suggestions and not set in stone, it didn’t bode well with board members.

“If you couple (some of these together), the message it sends to our teachers in the classroom is devastating,” said Kathleen Angelucci, who represents north Cobb.

She was referring to the step increase recommendation, reducing teacher and administrator positions and furlough and instruction day decreases.

Angelucci also said the transportation cuts to the district’s magnet programs and the Boys and Girls Clubs at a savings of $1 million, “sticks in my craw.”

Johnson said he understood her discontent and appreciated her voicing her concerns because he knew it was important for the board to have an in-depth discussion about his suggestions.

Questions from educators

Board members were not the only ones questioning Johnson’s recommendations.

“I knew that the budget was going to be dramatic, but I was unprepared for the extent of the cuts,” said Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators. “Our students will be tremendously, negatively impacted and the safety of our students could be impacted.”

One thing she is against is the bus route change, especially for students in elementary schools.

“Can you imagine kindergarteners walking a mile and a half by themselves down Austell Road?” she asked.

Jackson also anticipates negative responses from her nearly 2,000-member organization on the idea of their not getting a salary step increase and the district only providing half credit for new teachers.

“That’s going to be dramatic,” she said. “They’d be taking a huge pay cut, and not only would it impact you the first year but every single year because you’d never catch up.”

She said she is worried the district may not have trouble getting first-year teachers to apply to openings, but there would be fewer veteran educators.

“It’s going to impact the quality of teachers that we can get in Cobb County,” she said.

Jackson said she was satisfied with the reaction from board members upon their seeing the resolutions for the first time.

“I liked that the board members had a lot of questions, had a lot to say about some of the very contentious issues on this budget,” she said. “I was excited that they looked at some of the ones that are very questionable to us, and I hope that the level of discussion will be great because some of these are not good ideas.”

Not all suggestions involved cuts

Johnson also presented the board with a concept he called “Strawman,” which is a new spin on how the district will educate students and, if successful, could potentially save the district around $100 million through the 2018 budget year.

It would involve offering more online classes to students during a regular school day. The district would essentially collect funding from the state based on the number of students who take the classes.

Johnson said the idea is that it could save the district money because a classroom teacher makes on average $75,000 a year, compared to an online teacher who could bring in around $31,500, not including benefits.

Johnson said the first year they would start slowly by opening this opportunity up to around 66 teachers and then increase that if it proves to work well.

“This will allow us to continue to think out of the box,” he said.

The proposal is the district’s attempt at finding an alternative model of education, which is what Hinojosa has said would be needed in the near future to resolve budget issues.

“This will not be for all students though,” he advised.

It will give students a chance to earn extra credits if needed and could allow staff to earn extra money by teaching the classes.

Every board member asked a number of questions about the concept, and David Morgan, who represents southwest Cobb, congratulated the district on the idea.

“Kudos to the superintendent and staff for innovation and thinking outside the box,” he said.

The plan was included in the budget resolutions as saving the district money down the road, but initially it could cost about $3.9 million to get up and running.

Approvals made by board

In other business Thursday, the board approved six SPLOST-related construction projects at seven schools, the request of retirement from a Kennesaw middle school principal and Hinojosa’s administrative cabinet.

The construction projects will cost nearly $3.2 million in total and are estimated to be complete sometime before the end of July.

Cathy Wentworth, Palmer Middle School’s principal, was approved to retire effective May 31.

The superintendent’s cabinet is made up of 14 people, including Deputy Superintendent of Leadership and Learning Cheryl Hungerford and the district’s five area assistant superintendents, Deputy Superintendent of Operations Chris Ragsdale, Chief of Staff Angela Huff and the director of communications, Chief Academic Officer Amy Krause and her two assistant superintendents, and Chief Human Resources Officer Michael Shanahan.

Each of their contracts was extended from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014.

Comments
(65)
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Salary1
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March 26, 2013
instead of cutting school days, they should cut the obscene salaries and pensions of the fatcat administrators at the school board office
Just Sayin'....
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March 24, 2013
Well....where are all those nice Chamber folks now that the SPLOST has passed and we need money to keep the doors open???? Mr. Loud??? Is that you I hear making a donation to keep Cobb County schools at the forefront? Nope, I didn't think so.

Our back is up against the wall and class sizes are going to get bigger, time in academic pursuit shorter, and teachers effectively paid less. Interestingly enough, we are going to have some great looking buildings we will be using less of. If only Mr. Sweeney and friends could focus on revenue to operate the schools rather than building new ones. But, building projects endear those with political aspirations to the Chamber folks, not actually running a world-class school system.
Gabby3
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March 23, 2013
Attorney General Eric Holder says he has averted daily furloughs of 3,570 federal prison staffers around the country, moving $150 million from other Justice Department accounts to stave off a serious threat to the lives and safety of correctional staff, inmates and the public. Why can't Cobb County stop furloghs for those that love and educate our children? Use the reserves or do anything but teachers are hurting!!! Did you forget that you decreased their salaries 2%? When does it stop?
Wow....
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March 23, 2013
Lots of high emotions here.... As a former teacher, stay at home mom, school volunteer, returned back to the classroom, over the past 30 years person... here is my take on all of this...

1. Education has changed a LOT over the past 30 years. So much more is expected of each child at an earlier age. More standards, more technology, more responsibilities...

2. Children have changed a LOT over the past 30 years. They are coming to school expecting to be able to learn more at an earlier age and yet, they aren't as emotionally and mentally prepared as they were 30 years ago when they entered school.

3. Parents have changed a LOT over the past 30 years. They expect their kids to be the best at everything and it's the teacher's fault if they are not.

Times are tough and we have witnessed education resources drastically reduced each year for the past 5 years. We expect kids to learn more with less. And they are. Teachers don't go into education for the money - most of us will tell you that. However, when our salaries continue to go down each year while expenses are going up - it makes for low morale. Many of my colleagues are taking on an extra job or 2 or 3 just to make ends meet and feed their families. Our insurance rates have drastically increased (costing most of us an extra $350 a month out of our paychecks starting January 2013)

I tell you this not to tell you a sob story or gain your sympathy. I just ask for you to not judge until you have walked a mile in the other man's shoes.... :)
anonymous
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March 25, 2013
What you don't get is that the public sector is USED TO their salary going down; their insurance going up, etc. and all else you teachers are whining about and that the public sector has been immune to until just starting now. Think about it, and it is actually sad to ask you to think about it. If your expenses are going up in the public sector, what is happening to our expenses in the private sector? Ahem. Ahem. Does the grocery store charge you more than it charges me?
anonymous
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March 23, 2013
Let me give you all a clue: School will not be going to four days. Not. Never. No matter how much lazy teachers would love that (who get two weeks off for Christmas, a week off for Thanksgiving, a week off for Spring break, how many for a new year, 2 months off in the summer give a few weeks at most), You already are part-timers compared to the rest of the real world that works 12-hour days and gets 2 weeks vacation. Stop ya' whining. We heared ya' (ha). We don't feel sorrie for ya' (ha). Get ya head out of yaself and realize how great you have it.
anonymous
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March 26, 2013
this is about the most uninformed comment I've ever heard in my life. teachers work all day teaching your kids. then spend most of their evening planning lessons, making their own materials, and volunteering for after-school activities, again, to support your children (they don't get paid for this). For a quality educator it is more than a 12 hour day. Tell me what it is that you do that improves the lives of so many other people and yet are not rewarded or recognized for the effort.
anon again
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March 26, 2013
this is about the most uninformed comment I've ever heard in my life. teachers work all day teaching your kids. then spend most of their evening planning lessons, making their own materials, and volunteering for after-school activities, again, to support your children (they don't get paid for this). For a quality educator it is more than a 12 hour day. Tell me what it is that you do that improves the lives of so many other people and yet are not rewarded or recognized for the effort.
anonymous
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March 23, 2013
The fact that Are You Okay called children Brats raises a huge red flag for me and if Are You Okay is an educator, I hope Are You Okay finds themselves on that end of the unemployment line.
anonymous also
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March 23, 2013
Good thing the ESPLOST vote was early in the week before this news came out, other wise it may not have passed. CCSD 8800 employees may not have supported it as much as they did.
@ anonymous also
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March 25, 2013
Actually, had SPLOST not passed the budget picture would be significantly worse than it is since capital expenditures would then be made out of the operations budget leaving fewer funds available for teachers' and others' salaries.
Wastin My Time Exp
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March 23, 2013
To explain again: The 'older people tax exemption' has absolutely nothing nada nil zero uno to do with the school district and it is not taking money away from the school district. The money does not belong to the school district. I repeat. The money does not belong to the school district. It belongs to the tax office and if repealed would go to the tax office and not the school district. The two are not related in any way whatsover. Absolutely nothing nada nil zero uno zero' zéro' nul none no way. How many languages do you need to hear this in to get that? This started as a scare tactic to get 'older people' to vote for SPLOST and they were told the lie that if they didn't their exemption could go away. Nothing nil nada uno could be further from the truth. Did you get it yet? Now quit saying senior exemption and school in the same sentence once and for all. That is like saying oak trees are similar to squirrels. Stop it. If the exemption were repealed the money should be used to make up for program cuts senior's programs have already had. It isn't being repealed and to repeat myself, even if it were school districts would benefit not one cent. Nada. Got it yet? Now shut up about it and move on.
Straightened Record
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March 25, 2013
Property owning seniors over 62 are eligible to apply for an exemption from "School Tax."

IF the exemption was repealed, and we agree it won't, seniors would then pay school tax like all other property owners.

The scare tactic was actually deployed by Lance Lamberton's Cobb Taxpayers Association via robo-call suggesting that a vote for SPLOST would result in the elimination of the school tax senior exemption - that claim is 100% false.

It will take a constitutional amendment to repeal the senior exemption.
East Cobb Parent
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March 22, 2013
Cutting teacher pay, making kids walk a mile and a half, short changing our kids education with a shorter school year. None of these steps are acceptable. Budgets are stretched thin and there is no more room to cut. I'm one conservative who belives that our county is run very well. Accordingly, increase my property tax to make up the shortfall. Investing in our children through better infrastructure and teaching resources will provide a substantial return in the long run. Yes, higher income earners can afford to make this investmet.
Strawman
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March 22, 2013
Look up the definition of Strawman. Interesting new way to educate our children. Parents need to pay attention!
Concerned...
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March 22, 2013
As a taxpayer, home owner, and business owner in Cobb County I am very disappointed with the Superintendent's recommendations to the Board of Ed. First, has the board ever considered charging for transportation, instead of continuing to make the distance between bus stops farther and farther away from homes. Parents that want to utilize the bus system should be charged. Secondly, I understand the online classes being introduced. However, the devil is in the details...most of those classes would be taught during the day...therefore eliminating the need for classroom teachers, instead only para educators would be managing behavior while our kids stare at a screen. I guess learning would happen by osmosis. Cobb tax payers need to wake-up. If we want our property value and businesses to remain in Cobb...we must have leadership that respects what teachers and local school administrators do each and every day. I hope each of the board members will remember that they are elected officials. They have the duty to make decisions on what is best for children and remember sometimes ideas are introduced by individuals trying to make a "name" for themselves. Board Members please don't help the superintendent try to make a name for himself...instead make a name for yourself by standing up for the children, teachers, and school administrators of Cobb County which in turn will safeguard our property values and business opportunities.
anonymous
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March 23, 2013
Well, you narrowed down the bored [sic] members you object to as gender. "to make a name for himself." Duh.
C. Smith
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March 23, 2013
I have written before, but you people need to get your head out of the sand. As much as you don't like it, this nation does not belong to who it used to belong to and Cobb County schools are educating more and more what is now minorities and this is only going to increase. By that, I mean, and I will lay it out on the table, when I grew up in Cobb County, I was a senior in high school before I saw a face other than white and then, it was only two. Honest to God. If you have young White children, Hispanics will outnumber them by the time they are eligible for retirement (before then). The face of education is changing, therefore eliminating the need for classroom teachers. Get with the program and accept the technology that is coming without holding students behind, which I see as Hispanics knocking the socks off of Whites who stand staid fast they are the rulers. Better yet to tell your children not to sit on their behinds; they will most likely report to a Hispanic someday.
C. Smith
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March 23, 2013
I don't get you. You said, "However, the devil is in the details...most of those classes would be taught during the day...therefore eliminating the need for classroom teachers." Buddy, that is what has been happening for years except for in schools as technology evolves. Welcome to 2013. Glad to have you.
Jim Stoll
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March 22, 2013
Maybe the time has come for our school district administrators to stop wasting time on how to develop a "strategy" for teaching Cobb County kids and begin to plan a strategy on how to run a school district. Maybe the time has come for the CCSD to stop building Career Academies, new High Schools, Ninth Grade Centers and other facilities we don't need and concentrate on how to make maximum utilization of the schools we have. Maybe the time has come for the CCSD to redistrict the schools they have to make maximum utilization of the empty desks they have in existing schools. Maybe if the CCSD would consolidate its schools we could really close a significant number of the schools we have, just like the Chicago school district is now doing. Maybe then we could then get rid of about half of the administrators we have playing patty cake on Glover Street and get back about the business of education, which was once believed to be the only purpose for their existance. Wouldn't that be Wunnerful, Wunnerful, Wunnerful?
Jammer51
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March 22, 2013
86.4 million is a big number and it won't be found in a single area. But, I bet I could go through the Central Office and without too much effort find 20 positions with an average annual cost(salary benefits) of $75K each that could be eliminated. 20 X $75k = $1.5 million. I'd really be looking at positions that had the words, "Deputy", "Area", and/or "Assistant" as part of the job title.
anonymous
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March 22, 2013
Online classes good idea



Cutting days from the school year – good idea – only because the teachers don’t take advantage of the time anyway (unbelievable how many disney movies, parties, and other crap my kids do); also – teachers continue to take weeklong vacations in the middle of the school year – and leave no effective lesson plan



I’m very glad that revenues have dropped. It’s forcing some thought for a change and putting pressure on educators to perform or be cut.



Since class sizes have gone up, budgets have been cut, etc. – how has test performance been? It’s gone up, not significantly down like educators told us it would.



Bottomline – revenues have gone down dramatically and my kids education hasn’t been negatively impacted in the slightest. Good deal – and when revenues go back up – we all need to fight to keep it from being wasted on the garbage programs educators are constantly putting forth.

say what?
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March 22, 2013
Sounds like your kids are in elementary school with the Disney movies and what not, but what about High School kids? Some of the classes they want to make online are AP courses. There is no way a parapro can effectively teach a college level course! I seriously doubt that the College Board will give their approval/AP Certification to schools who do not have certified teachers teaching AP. Can some classes be done online? Yes, but not challenging or upper level courses.

I don't agree with parties and Disney movies by any means, but you seem to have a very narrow view of education. There is already pressure on educators to perform or be cut as it is. Your little darlings must be in an East Cobb school because I promise you that increase class sizes do matter. For example, a class of 35 kids in East Cobb(say at Walton) will have MUCH different behavior than a class that size in West Cobb schools (Say Osborne or S. Cobb). Socio-economics and involvement of parents play a BIG part in what goes on in schools and student performance/behavior. Also, I've never seen a teacher take a week long vacation - they only get 3 personal days a year and if they are out for a week consecutively they have to provide documentation from a doctor.
@say what
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March 22, 2013
@say what (aka head in sand),

I don't see where the article says AP courses would be taught online

I don't see where the article says Parapros will be teaching AP courses or any courses

Online courses/teachers are used successfully today in both high school and college

I don't see where the article says that non-certified AP teachers will be teaching AP courses

Your are blind if you don't see the teachers taking week long vacations during the school year.

Do I care what happens in the Osborne district? Heck no. I already pay 15 x more in property tax to educate children than the typical Osborne parent does. Life isn't always fair - too bad.

terrible anon
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March 22, 2013
You are a terrible and ridiculous person, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. I'm sorry you have experienced something negative with schools in your life, but to paint that broad stroke across 100 institutions is unreasonable and inaccurate. My husband works in a school, and he's never take off more than two days in a row in his 15 year career. He has never thrown a party or wasted time showing Disney movies. The only reason test scores aren't dropping is because dedicated, humble people like my husband work tirelessly to make sure kids do well. Are you actually happy with the state of education right now? You see no problem with the trends in cutting opportunities and services? Such glee in the face of professionals suffering is a testament to your weak character and sad life. My hope is that teachers give your children a better model of humanity because you, apparently, have none.
Do I understand?
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March 22, 2013
If I understand you correctly, the teachers are not educating your children very well because of the movies, parties, etc. Yet you also say their "education hasn't been negatively impacted in the slightest." How can you have it both ways? Your logic escapes me.
Just Wait
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March 22, 2013
Let's see. Not enough money to fully operate the system as it is today, but they want to spend millions of dollars for a "career academy." This is why I voted "NO" on the SPLOST. And they say the Democrats can't efficiently run government without waste.
hard worker
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March 22, 2013
I have been teaching for 35 years and make no where near the quoted "$75,000.00" per year. My salary has gone down since 2008, but I work because I love the job and know I am impacting a child's future.
@ hard worker
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March 22, 2013
First - thank you for your service.

Watching the presentation last evening, the superintendent stated that the $75,000 was an average cost, not a salary figure. That means the number includes benefits, employer FICA contributions, retirement, etc.

Typically, add-ons increase per employee cost by 30% to 35% per employee. Using the 30% figure that places the average salary closer to $57,000 to $58,000 annually.
anonymous
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March 22, 2013
Johnson is right to run schools like a business. All businesses have had to tighten belts and make decisions that are hard and unpopular. Schools are no different. It is amazing what people can live without though they go kicking and screaming the whole way.
@anoymous teabag
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March 22, 2013
PLEASE! Stop with the business analogy. Schools are not businesses. We don't make money. We educate children. Unfortunately we have to try to educate children even if they don't want to learn. Let me "fire" my students and then we can start making these tired ridiculous comparisons.

Better yet, if you insist of making the business comparison, then let me charge parents a set fee per child, per hour. I will gladly take ten dollars per hour per child to provide you with child care. That is a bargain.

Keep griping about taxes. Keep underfunding your schools. Then, watch as your property values plummet and your crime rate rises because your children will be unemployable.
@whiner
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March 22, 2013
Odd, the budget HAS been drastically cut

class sizes drastically increased,

and

at the same time, scores have gone up

not drastically down

we have wasted far too much money listening to teacher's unions, PTA's and career educators and the fads they push
anonymous
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March 22, 2013
Schools will stop being businesses when people stop getting paid to work and budgets stop getting made to spend money. A business is a business is a business. A school is a business the same way a nursing home is a business. Is a nursing home not a business? People WORK at schools to MAKE MONEY. Teachers WORK at school. When teachers start being volunteers, well, it is still a business. United Way has thousands of volunteers; the Red Cross has thousand of volunteers. They are still a business with a budget and paid employees.
@ reply dolt
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March 22, 2013
The school district is a business, it just has a different product. You have to use your resources effectively and efficiently but no one wants to do that either. When you hear about kids without desks or textbooks, don't you not think it is the Principals responsibility to make sure that the school is ready for kids? Well they don't! So next time you hear about one of those situations I will wager it was poor planning on the part of school administration, not the support groups, that caused the problem.
are you ok?
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March 22, 2013
Are you ok with schools only operating four days a week? That would leave you with your kids one day a week. That might be unpopular and hard, but I suspect you (and thousands of other parents) could do it. The problem is, you won't man up and do it. INstead, you want professional babysitters to manage your brats for you. If this is a business, I'm inclined to charge more for the services, right? Then pay more property tax, jacka$$! Tighten your bell until you can't go any further, and then see who's kicking and screaming.
@@ reply dolt
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March 25, 2013
Funny how there is a "Growth and Replacement Fund" (via SPLOST - Project Services Dept) which was to be used by Principals for desks and other furniture for students. Audit those records. You can see how some schools used this funding to deck out Principal offices or ordered custom items for which could be seen as a "luxury" items. Yes, it's nice for the principals to have nice things, but not at the expense of the children!
Crazy!
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March 22, 2013
So we implement the new, more rigorous Common Core standards with tougher tests coming in 2015 that students must pass to graduate and we are recommending that students take online classes so we don't have to pay for teachers? There are too many kids who take online classes now and cheat by Googling answers and they don't care about learning-just getting the answer. Great idea for budget concerns and who suffers-teachers and most importantly, the kids!
A teacher's view
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March 22, 2013
Honestly, they should have been working on this problem before now. Unfortunately we are still receiving furlough days and no pay raises because the board never had the courage to tackle the problem. At this time, there are too many teachers for the district to be able to afford. I do like the plan that will keep current teachers in their jobs, but allow us to make some extra money, and at the same time decrease the amount of new teachers coming into the system.
please consider
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March 22, 2013
Saying that there will be no teacher cuts, but then losing 250 teachers to attrition is, basically, one and the same. Either way, classroom sizes will increase dramatically. Another concern is why the budget continues to be balanced on the backs of teachers, while the superintendent needs a deputy, operations officer AND a chief of staff. What exactly is a chief of staff? Mr. Superintendent, don't you believe you can get by with less if our teachers and students can!
MiddleSchoolTeacher
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April 03, 2013
As a teacher for 10 years, I can attest to the fact that this job is a tough one and getting tougher. I am not in a school that can't take a day off to show a film for fun. We count the days to CRCT's and are constantly accountable for how we use our time. With 168 students, if I spend one minute per student grading an assignment, it adds up to almost three hours of my evening. There is rarely time during the day for grading. I thank those who have acknowledged that this is a tough job. While there will always be teachers who are lazy and shouldn't be in the profession, from my experience, most of us do this job because we love the work and the students. I just hope that we can figure this out so the classroom doesn't become more crowded. The classrooms are beyond packed as it is.
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