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Time running out for Fayette BoE to find $6.7M in cuts

The Fayette County School System is currently working off of a budget for the 2011-2012 school year that projected $170 million in revenues and more than $186 million in expenses. To date, the Fayette County Board of Education has approved Superintendent Jeff Bearden’s only recommended cut for the new school year that begins in July.

That leaves approximately $6.7 million that is expected to be cut in order to adopt a balanced budget in June. Bearden has stated on several occasions that those cuts will likely be coming in personnel. So what are some of the variables pertaining to personnel and the budget?

Before addressing the variables it should be noted that there may be somewhat of a silver lining to the upcoming budget considerations. That lining comes in the form of money currently being saved, essentially in personnel-related dollars, that puts the school system $4.3 million under budget as of January. With that in mind there is also the consideration that Fayette’s continued falling enrollment will mean upwards of $3 million fewer dollars coming from the state in the near term.

The need for discussions aimed at determining exactly what measures should be taken for the school board to be able to adopt a balanced budget in June for the 2012-2013 school year were the subject of comments last spring by Bearden and some on the board. Bearden and the board agreed that those discussions would begin during the summer of 2011. By his account, Bearden around that time said the school system would need to trim approximately $10 million in expenses in order to adopt a balanced budget for the 2012-2013 school year that begins this summer.

Then-Chairman Bob Todd months ago, and with the support of board member Marion Key, asked Bearden to have all recommendations ready for consideration prior to end of the 2011 calendar year so that board members would have sufficient time to review the proposals. Board member Janet Smola also made a request, asking that the recommendations come in the beginning of 2012.

One recommendation was forthcoming prior to the end of the calendar year. The school system conducted a survey on a number of topics that would reduce expenditures but the only recommendation forthcoming was in December to adopt a 177-day calendar at an annual savings of approximately $3.3 million. That, according to Bearden’s previous estimate, leaves approximately $6.7 million that must be cut to enable the board to adopt a state-required balanced budget sometime in June.

Bearden said his additional recommendations expected to total $6.7 million will come in the opening months of 2012. The balance of the needed cuts will likely come in the area of personnel, Bearden told board members on several occasions during the past few months.

Bearden may well be able to recommend making up the $6.7 million through personnel. The school system employs more than 3,000 people and loses a significant number of employees each year through conditions such as retirement or relocation. Despite the requests by some on the board, Bearden continues to hold his thoughts on the recommendations close to the vest.

Teachers usually think they will be the first to see cuts. And with falling enrollment that translates into teacher/student ratios, such a concern might be plausible to some extent. But there are also classroom parapros whose salary is largely paid by local dollars.

But what about some of the other areas that are not tied to the classroom?

• Non school-based personnel — Information supplied by the school system for the previous school year that ended on June 30 shows that of the more than 3,000 people employed, a total of 148 work in administrative, managerial, academic or support positions that are not located in schools. Those include locations such as central office and the Lafayette Education Center.

In total, the 148 positions generate $7.405 million in salaries. The positions fall into departmental categories such as Maintenance, Technology, Human Resources, Finance, Administration, Transportation, Testing, Special Education, Purchasing, Pupil Personnel Services, Instruction, Welcome Center or Student Assistance.

But it should be noted that eight of the 148 positions fall into the categories of After School Program and Nutrition, both of which generate revenues that pay the salaries of those employees. The salaries for the three After School Program staff total $151,502 while the salaries for the 5 Nutrition staff total $235,629.

That said, the remaining 140 positions receive $7.018 million in salaries from a combination of state and local sources. That sum translates to an average of $50,129 per person.

In terms of salary, there are five staff in the Fayette system making between $70,000-80,000, seven staff making $80,000-90,000 and 6 making $90,000-100,000. And there are 14 staff with salaries exceeding $100,000.

These individuals serve as department heads, academic or system coordinators and in upper administrative positions. The top three wage earners in the school system are the superintendent at $153,000, the deputy superintendent at $134,000 and the assistant superintendent at $126,000.

• Assistant Principals — The school system has 44 assistant principal positions in the 29 public schools, with two of those currently vacant, according to information obtained from the school system. State funding pays for 35.6 of those positions while the remaining 8.4 positions are funded by county property taxes.

Salary information obtained at for Fiscal Year 2010, the most recent available, showed 40 of the current assistant principals listed. Their salaries, not including benefits, totaled $3.046 million.

Of the 40 assistant principals listed, the low was $62,500 while the high was $95,700, for an average of $76,150.

The 8.4 positions not funded by the state and reliant on local property tax dollars total $639,600 based on the $76,150 average.

• Bus drivers — Information supplied by the Fayette County School System showed that the system has a total of 284 buses and maintains 205 bus routes. The remaining 79 buses are either spares or surpluses.

Similarly, the school system employs 205 bus drivers. That number has sometimes been brought up in the past by members of the public in terms of potential cost saving measures since the Georgia Dept. of Education pays for only 92 of the 205 positions.

Bus drivers work part-time and are some of the lowest paid employees of the school system, with some working the positions to obtain health insurance. Bus drivers make in the range of $20,000 per year.

Fayette County school buses log approximately 1.72 million miles during the 180-day school year.

Asked about the school system’s special education buses, spokesperson Melinda Berry-Dreisbach said 45 of the buses are used for special education buses and, of those, 43 have monitors.

Pertaining to bus monitors, the school system maintains that, “Monitors are needed to care for the special needs students on their buses. The IEP (Individual Education Plan) requires a monitor. The bus driver needs help loading and unloading wheelchair-bound students. Pre-K students need help getting in their seat and being buckled up. Some students need guiding to their seat. The monitors watch for seizures and any unusual behavior. Just as the special needs teacher needs help in the classroom with the students, so does the bus driver on the bus.”

• Other school system employees — There are additional employees such as food service staff and custodians that are tied to school facilities and maintenance staff that serve the system as a whole.

Generally bringing in lower wages, the number of those staff are essentially tied to the number of school facilities operated by the school system.

That said, there was some discussion in the fall about closing two elementary schools, opening Rivers Elementary and closing one middle school to reflect the system’s decreasing enrollment and as a way to save precious dollars. The school system subsequently conducted a non-scientific community survey to determine the interest level on the idea.

The idea of closing one unnamed middle school had the agreement of 35.9 percent of respondents while 27.3 percent disagreed. Of those unsure, 21.9 percent leaned toward closure while 14.9 percent likely preferred the school remain open.

Closing one middle school would save approximately $1 million per year.

Another topic, that of closing two unnamed elementary schools and opening Rivers Elementary to its full capacity found more agreement than disagreement. Approximately 40 percent of respondents agreed with the closure and 19.3 percent were unsure but probably agreed. On the opposite side, 30.6 percent disagreed and 10.3 percent were unsure but probably disagreed.

Closing two elementary schools and opening Rivers would generate approximately $800,000 in savings.

And it was the idea of potentially closing two elementary schools that drew a number of people to the Sept. 19 meeting. Some of those took to the podium during the public comments portion of the meeting. Saying that they had heard their schools were being targeted for closure, members of the Tyrone and Brooks communities were insistent that their schools are an integral part of the respective communities and should not be targeted for potential closure.

There were also a number of other comments that accompanied that insistence. Brooks resident Donna New suggested that the survey was not clearly representative of the school system and should either be re-administered or disregarded.

Tyrone resident Melissa Hill questioned the county of residence of survey respondents. She said the schools in Tyrone and Brooks should remain open, adding that the more populated cities such as Fayetteville could handle the closure more easily than the smaller communities of Brooks and Tyrone.

Still others during public comments advocating for the schools in Brooks and Tyrone to stay open suggested taking back teacher’s recently restored pay and instituting a merit-based system for raises, eliminating positions at central office and not allowing out-of-county employees to bring their children to Fayette schools.

Yet another Brooks resident in advocating for her community’s school to remain open said that, if closed, her daughter would likely have to attend a Title 1 school (which receives federal assistance tied to lower income levels) and would be at risk.

Community survey notwithstanding and regardless any current or future financial need, the idea of closing any of the county’s schools will likely be met by significant opposition from a number of parents. Thus any conversation in that regard, as evidenced at the Sept. 19 meeting where one parent said she would work to unseat board members if her child’s school was closed, could quickly become a political hot potato. Meantime, qualifying for three school board seats will take place in April and Bearden has stated that he would like to hold off on talks concerning school closures.

But what about the dramatically shrinking school enrollment numbers that, if continued, will potentially make it necessary to close several schools?

As it turns out the school system lost another 719 students between December 2010 and December 2011.

The December figures put school system enrollment at 20,607 compared to the 21,326 students a year earlier. Put in perspective, Fayette County schools have not seen so few students in a decade.

The biggest hit came at the elementary and high school levels. Compared to the first week of December 2010, elementary schools lost a total of 311 students while the county’s high schools lost 307 students. Fayette’s middle schools, while faring better, still have 101 fewer students than the same time a year ago. Those numbers reflect a total loss of 719 students since this time December 2010.

A look at the numbers show elementary schools at the beginning of December with a total of 8,324 students. That compares to 8,635 students for the same time last year. Student enrollment at the county’s middle schools totaled 5,047 compared to the 5,148 students attending one year earlier. And at Fayette’s high schools enrollment fell from 7,543 a year ago to 7,236 at the beginning of December.

An enrollment projection study accomplished in 2011 showed Fayette schools losing approximately 1,650 students by 2021. If that scenario plays out the school system will be back at the enrollment levels seen around 2000 and will have effectively lost more than two decades of student enrollment growth.

As for the upcoming recommendations to cut an estimated $6.7 million from the expenditures side of the budget, the school board, school system employees and county taxpayers will have to wait until Bearden presents his ideas.

School system revenues come essentially from local and state dollars. Local property tax revenues have been sliding due to a diminishing tax digest while state dollars linked to student enrollment figures continue to fall as Fayette’s enrollment continues to shrink. Each student in the school system generates approximately $4,000, so every decrease of 250 students translates into a $1 million decrease in state funding.

The hope, of course, is that the results of the recession will be reversed and population growth, including that of school-age children, will once again be seen in Fayette County.



Robert W. Morgan's picture

When the reader falls asleep 1/3 of the way through - that's a bad thing.
What you have here are 3 different stories that should appear separately
1. Host of cuts must be made soon
2. What and when will Bearden recommend
3. Survey results repeated
4. And then a follow up piece - Interview with Bearden, Why he's dithering

Of course the pollyanish last paragraph about growth returning soon is pure opinion and incorrect on top of that. No facts back that up.

Student enrollment will decline every year for the next 5. The only solution is to close 3 or 4 schools now and severely cut back on support staff and bus service. Not popular, but that's the solution - get on with it.
Of course Mr. Pressman could get his atheist buddy to teach a couple of classes for free. That would save some money on a teacher salary and it would lower the student population even more.

Live free or die!

It would be nice if this article included school capacities while at it. The article is very long - another few paragraphs couldn't hurt too much!

The answer is painful - it's called closing a few schools. Can't wait to see the recommendations from Superintendent.

suggarfoot's picture

Some states and counties have outsourced transportation (bussing)

Just a thought. Would save a bundle. look at the deal below (ofcourse I don't know if they do airshows! ha ha)

First Student, Inc.
According to their website, First Student, Inc. is the leading school bus company in North America. They maintain over 60,000 school buses and employ 68,000 drivers to bring 4 million children to and from school on a daily basis. They offer a number of transportation services to schools, including route planning, GPS tracking devices on each bus, charter bus rentals and bus maintenance. First Student stresses that its primary concern is safety, whether it comes to picking students up, driving in icy conditions, or running regular drug and alcohol tests on the drivers. Schools can outsource their transportation needs to First Student, who will create a comprehensive service plan and work within the budget of each individual school district.

First Student, Inc.
600 Vine Street
Suite 1400
Cincinnati, OH 45202


or better is a list of them in Georgia

Find a contractor in your area by selecting a state from the drop down box on the right. If you need additional assistance, please contact the NSTA Central Office at 800-222-6782.

Note to NSTA Members: If you do not see one of your locations listed under the state where it is located, please contact the NSTA Central Office.

Note to School Bus Contractors: If you would like to see your company's name in the directory below, visit the contractor membership page or contact the NSTA Central Office.

Select State / Province:
Contractor Company Phone Email
Ronald Baumann Baumann & Sons Buses, Inc. 631-471-4600

John Benish, Jr. Cook Illinois Corp. 708-560-9840

Kellie Dean Dean Transportation Inc. 517-319-3300


Greg Walter Durham School Services 843-514-0907

Kathy Vaske First Student, Inc. 866-960-6274


Barry Stock Landmark Bus 630-435-8000

Tim Flood The TransGroup, LLC 845-356-2200

G35 Dude's picture

Do you work for this company? You must get a commission if Fayette County were to outsource to these people? LOL

Another idea that some school districts are using is charging parents to transport their kids. There are problems with both ideas. Having spent over 30 years in corporate America I have seen what the effects of outsourcing are up close. When you outsource the savings are usually short lived. You see nobody will do the job for less than you can. In fact they will want a profit for doing it. So while the short term looks good the prices will increase each year until they are making this profit. Also you lose control of the operation. When problems arise (i.e. a bus shortage for example) buses will be diverted to the company/school system that has the most clout with the service provider. What if that isn't Fayette?

As for the pay to ride idea, I think the problems are obvious. But it would help with the money crunch by increasing revenue and reducing riders.

One last idea that I actually like is this. Put a bounty on people that run school bus stop signs. I think it was Dekalb county (not sure) that increased the fine for people that do this and gives the increase to the school system. I'd increase the fine by say $200. Give the school system $150 and the bus driver that has to report it, do paper work, go to court if necessary the last $50. They only get the money if they can prove their case.

There was a time when I was cop in LA that we use to assign a vehicle or two to do nothing but tail fire vehicles and ticket those who would not yield to them. Maybe we should try the same thing with school buses.

One more idea to consider is reducing the number of routes. Do we really need to have buses driving through developments and stopping at nearly every corner for just 1 kid? What is wrong with having a single pick-up/drop-off location such as the club-house (for those developments which have one). When I was young, I took the bus throughout High School and every morning had to walk to the nearest Elementary School where buses were waiting.

suggarfoot's picture

Just floating up ideas. I don't like outsourcing either, but Smith and Smola have spent all our money on schools along the west bypass. The money is going to have to be cut somewhere and I rather see it cut someplace besides the classrooms.

Because of the ignorance of two, we are faced with some very bad choices. I don't see any 'good' choices on the horizon. We are going to have to choose the lesser of the evils.

G35 Dude's picture

I agree that that hard decisions are about to have to be made. How do you feel about charging parents to transport their kids? Or even the increasing of the fine for running the school bus stop sign?

Sit on GA314 north of Kenwood Rd any school morning and watch the signs get run. 4-5 each morning. This is a great idea. The SOs do a good job, but they can't be everywhere. But yeah, give the drivers an incentive to take the time to drive into town and have those videos pulled (buses #270+ have cameras on the driver's side just to catch these things)

Haven't heard where any cuts might come from in county office. It is usually the group that can bite back the least that gets cut the most.
Pupil out cry for two way less that full school to be closed: taken off the table
You have a couple of county office people that are way over 30 years service making over 100k- "ain't gonna happen"
Teachers being cut 4 per building- who are they going to complain to that will listen or do anything about. <- that will work!
It is a hard thing to do when you are mixing politics and what is right or equal for workers and the students.
It is time for some real leadership and hard choices, we'll see on both!

It is rumored that spec ed teachers will be cut (one per building, or something like that) and each school will get a para to fill in as the other teachers will be spread too thin to collab in all the classes (as per the IEPs). I wonder if they will require the paras to be HQ in math or English?!! Bad time to be a spec ed teacher...glad I am certified in reg ed as well. Woe to those that are not. I guess this is a sign from God (or should I write "gawd") to start looking elsewhere? Who knows? The future's uncertain and the end is always near, right?

The answer will be straighforward, but unpopular. 1) Teacher positions cut (because of tenure, last in, first out) 2) Programs and non-teachers will be cut or severely limited. 3) School supplies will become non existent. 4) A school or two will eventually close. Some may think that school closings make sense and are easy, but organizations such as the NAACP will make sure that this becomes a race issue, and suddenly the BOE feels like a bunch of a'holes if they propose to close down the schools that should be closed.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

is district voting. Even before it is enacted the board members are going to think twice about closing schools in whatever district they are going to be in next election. Or maybe that's why Pressberg was brought in as a stalking horse to get some of the schools closed and give the voters in his district a target to punish. Meanwhile Smith and Smola have cover in their own isolated districts. I still puzzle over how those votes to make him chairperson and to not fight the lawsuit could have occurred without some collusion or prior meeting of the 3 of them.

Live free or die!

I bet that number will surprise the drivers.
Salary for a full time driver is around $12k.
Health benefits are about $70 a month, or $840 a year.
Field trips are extra, but not $6k worth.
So, where is this additional value that brings a driver to $20k?

To claim that Bus drivers make in the range of $20k is not only disingenuous, but poor journalism.

G35 Dude's picture

You are correct. Base pay for Bus drivers in Fayette County is just under $12k. The lowest in Metro Atlanta. The driver's that make more than that do field trips and work in schools in other functions also. Such as the cafeteria. Not only is this poor journalism but worse yet lazy journalism. A simple phone call could have obtained accurate information.

Because of apparent lazy journalism, is The Citizen getting more hits? Just asking. Sad. Read The Fayette Woman to get a balanced view of Fayette County.

G35 Dude's picture

[quote]Because of apparent lazy journalism, is The Citizen getting more hits? Just asking. Sad. Read The Fayette Woman to get a balanced view of Fayette County.[/quote]

LOL You may be on to something DM.

This FALSE reporting ate at me most of yesterday. So I downloaded the data as a CSV file (does The Citizen not have a spreadsheet program? ?) and sorted the data.

From 2010:
216 drivers
Total of all those salaries: $2,775,033.38
Average of those salaries: $12,847.38
The HIGHEST salary: $26,985.83

Cal Beverly's picture

In what universe do health benefits cost any company, even the BoE, only $70 a month per person?

$70 may be what a bus driver gets deducted from his/her paycheck, but you can believe the company/BoE pays much more.

$840 a year?!? Not in this world, even with high deductibles, which I believe is not a problem faced by public employees.

Likely, the true total costs of health benefits alone for a bus driver with dependent coverage is more than the salary paid.

Indeed, many people drive school buses not for the money but for the included, mostly company-paid health insurance coverage, a perk, BTW, not available to most part-time employees in the private sector.

Cal Beverly
The Citizen
Fayetteville, Ga. 30214

I know your job is to sell newspapers. Publishing the accurate facts isn't necessarily part of that job description.

You really don't have a clue how the FCBOE operates.

Drivers have access to the state benefits program. The county pays ~$70 a month towards a driver's health benefits. The drivers pay the remainder of the premium above that amount out of their salary. Depending on the plan chosen, that could be $80-$300 a month that the employee pays for coverage. Wow, that sounds JUST LIKE A PRIVATE SECTOR EMPLOYEE. Gee, access to a group plan. What a "perk"!

Now, you want to argue over the health costs (which I mentioned merely as an attempt to figure out where the $22k statement could possible come from, despite the context being about salaries), but ignore the obvious errant statement that drivers make in the "range of $20k"?

Did the board give you that number?
Did you come up with that one on your own, Mr. Beverly?

If it was the board spokesperson, what agenda do they have in inflating the number?
If it was your number, how did you arrive at the "$22k range"?

If the number comes from the board, how come you ran with it?

If that number can't be trusted regardless of its source, how can any of the other information in the article be trusted?

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