Clayton school board approves $11 million in cuts

Clayton County's school board voted 6-3 to approve $11 million in spending cuts Monday night, balancing the district's budget at the price of displeasing some community members. Under the plan, schools will maintain a reduced 175-day calendar, increase the class-size limit by two students, cut jobs that went unfilled over the past school year and drop elective courses with low attendance.

Such budget cuts are nothing new for the district, which has cut $190 million over the past three years.

"The best cuts would be cuts not needing to be made," said Douglas Hendrix, director of the school system's Human Resources Department.

School board Chairwoman Pam Adamson said the chosen cuts could have been worse for everyone.

Costs of employee health and retirement benefits have increased, but the district will shoulder those costs instead of forcing employees to pay more, she said. The board also considered but rejected proposals to drop middle school athletic programs, cut funding for fine arts and increase class sizes by three students, Adamson said.

Still, the remaining cuts drew concerns.

"It's a sad day when public education is not a priority in the state," said Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association. He questioned the potential increase in class sizes and the lack of a teacher pay raise. "If you want quality education, you have to fund it."

Others were upset that teachers who have earned advanced degrees may not see a pay raise.

"If you spent all that money to go to school and get an advanced degree, all while staying away from your family, and then you don't get the pay raise, that's a violation of contract law in my opinion," said John Trotter, head of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, a teacher's union.

But Adamson said the budget does not block such teachers from receiving a pay raise. Teachers should contact the Human Resources Department to find out why their pay grade has not increased, she said.

The board plans to hold another meeting on July 30 to discuss property tax rates, an increase of which would raise revenue for the district in coming years.