GCPS plans for teacher furloughs
School system readies for mandatory time off

LAWRENCEVILLE - All staff members of Gwinnett County Public Schools will take three furlough days before the end of the year, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said Thursday.

The announcement came two days after Gov. Sonny Perdue called for three furlough days for all state employees, including teachers, and an additional 3 percent cut in the funding formula for local school districts as part of his plan to address state budget shortfalls.

For Gwinnett County Public Schools, which has about 22,000 employees, the loss of state revenue for just the three furlough days is approximately $12 million. The furloughs will be implemented because the school district is not able to absorb such a significant revenue reduction within a budget that has already felt the impact of several years of funding cuts, Wilbanks said.

Buford City Schools Superintendent Geye Hamby said a decision had not been made as of Thursday on how to absorb the funding cut.

In developing Gwinnett's plan, the district sought to protect the integrity of the 180-day instructional calendar while considering the best interests of the teachers and staff members, Wilbanks said.

"Unfortunately, there were limited options that met those criteria," he said. "The loss of these valuable days for teachers is not an insignificant matter, but with few options, this was the most workable solution."

Two days of the preplanning week - Aug. 3 and 4 - and the Oct. 9 staff development/teacher planning day will be used as district wide furlough days for teachers and most other school-based staff. System-level staff development scheduled that week will be postponed to allow teachers to remain in their schools and classrooms from Aug. 5 to 7.

Furlough days for 12-month employees will be Oct. 9, Nov. 25 and Dec. 21. Furlough days for Stellar Subs - full-time school substitutes - will be the first three days of school - Aug. 10, 11 and 12.

Bus drivers and monitors will be off on Aug. 4 and 5, and most will take Aug. 6 as their third furlough day. Drivers working at local schools for registration and back-to-school activities, however, will use Aug. 7. The usual four days of school bus route practice runs will be limited to one day, Aug. 7, and will not be conducted systemwide.

High school nutrition employees will be off Nov. 24 and Dec. 14 and 15. Elementary and middle school nutrition employees will schedule their first day with their supervisor during the first three weeks of school and will also be off on Nov. 11 and 12, early release days.

Most schools have scheduled back-to-school activities for Aug. 6. Those should not be affected by furlough days, but some schools have activities scheduled for other times during preplanning week, district officials said. Parents should contact their school or check the school's Web site to learn of any changes to planned activities.

Gwinnett County Board of Education Chairman Daniel Seckinger said he understands the rationale behind Perdue's recommendation, but he hates it.

"I hate it for the teachers," he said. "I hate it for the bus drivers (and other employees)."

Seckinger said the school district has a history of doing more with less money, but the state cutbacks have reached the point where the school system has to determine where to make cuts that will have the least negative impact possible.

He emphasized that the furloughs are being implemented because of a state-level decision.

"This is not something we're doing to them (employees)," he said. "This is something that is being done to us."

Board member Louise Radloff said the cuts are a challenge for a fast-growing school system.

"You do what you have to do, I guess," she said.

She said she's received some feedback from employees who said they would rather take furlough days than be laid off. She doubts the reduction of work days will mean teachers will put forth less effort.

"I think our teachers are professionals," she said. "They will identify what their kids' needs are, and they'll give what needs to be given."