Dr. Terry Oatts

Dr. Terry Oatts

CONYERS — Budgetary concerns driven by the COVID-19 health crisis prompted the Rockdale County Board of Education to approve a reduction in force plan that involves reassigning district level personnel to fill teaching vacancies at the school level. The school system has also implemented a targeted hiring freeze.

Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts recommended the plan during a teleconference meeting Thursday night, while stressing that there are currently no plans for employee furloughs or layoffs. Oatts said the plan is in response to anticipated 14% state budget cuts that will, in turn, reduce state funding for local school systems under the Quality Basic Education funding formula.

The Georgia Department of Education is facing across-the-board cuts of around $1.6 billion to all aspects of the agency, from state administrative offices in Atlanta to specialty programs like agricultural education to everyday basic classroom education.

According to the school system, Oatts’ reduction in force plan will result in savings ranging from $1 million to $3 million for the 2021 fiscal year. The plan calls for “a targeted hiring freeze that includes not filling some classified and certified vacancies and reassigning some existing district-based certified personnel to school-based certified instructional vacancies.”

According to Cindy Ball, chief of Strategy and Innovation for the school system, there are currently 39 regular education teacher vacancies and seven special education vacancies in the system, although that number is subject to change. The school system has already hired 132 new teachers for the next school year.

Ball said all vacant teaching positions will be filled, although some non-teaching positions may remain vacant. She added that the school system will reduce the personnel point allotment for each school by one.

In addition, Oatts said he would work to “leverage pending retirements” in order to retain teaching expertise and experience on a part-time basis.

Budget cuts will also come at the department level, Oatts said, noting that he has already reduced the superintendent’s departmental budget by $50,000 and expects to cut more.

“We are not currently proposing any furloughs or layoffs,” Oatts reiterated. “But it would not be prudent for me to take any cost-saving measure off the table.”

The school board also voted to amend its fiscal year 2021 budget calendar due to the state’s delay in approving its budget. Instead of having the new budget approved by July 1, the school system is now planning to have final approval of the budget on July 16. A presentation of the proposed budget is scheduled for the June 11 Board of Education meeting.

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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