Schools decide on furlough days
By Faye Ellison & Carol McLeod
Tuesday morning, the Georgia State Board of Education voted to allow state school systems to furlough teachers for three days and possibly more to offset budget cuts. State officials contend that for each day that the state’s 120,000 teachers take unpaid furloughs, $33 million will be saved.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and other lawmakers announced Tuesday, July 21, that they came to an agreement about the cuts to fill a $900 million budget deficit in order to avoid a special legislative session and it will provide the governor flexibility with the cuts. As part of his fiscal plan, the governor has recommended that local school districts furlough certified personnel for three days and announced his intention to withhold state funding accordingly.
A 3 percent cut will be made to all of the state’s 180 school systems, after several cuts made to school systems and other state agencies to their already tightened budgets last year.
Public schools and Medicaid face the same 3 percent cuts to their budgets, as well as most state agencies facing a 5 percent cut, while some will be higher or lower. But every state employee must take three furlough days before the end of the calendar year.
“We have to live in the reality of the moment,” Perdue said during a news conference. “These steps are necessary and prudent to make sure we keep our commitment to Georgia taxpayers and allow us to give the most services to our citizens through the money we’re able to obtain.”
Georgia Board of Education Superintendent Kathy Cox said the state office is working with school systems to help with the latest budget blow.
“It saddens me that our economic situation is so dire that further reductions to education funding must be made, but I appreciate that the governor and legislature have done everything they can to cut education less than other areas,” Cox said in a statement. “I will be working with local superintendents so we can minimize the impact these budget reductions will have on student achievement.”
The state BOE vote will only allow school systems to cut days not used for educational instruction. The state board usually requires teachers work 190 days, 180 in the classroom and 10 in planning or training. The state BOE voted unanimously to give school systems the flexibility to impose up to seven more furlough days, should the economy worsen.
“It’s my hope that we don’t have to do this again,” State Superintendent Cox said Tuesday, “and that we find other ways to cut. We’re going to stand up for our teachers and our students so they can achieve academic success.”
The governor requested that furloughs be taken before the end of the calendar year. While Glascock and Jefferson counties plan to take furloughs, other state systems plan to combat the budget cuts in other ways.
Glascock County School System Superintendent Jim Holton said the Glascock County Board of Education met for a called meeting on July 27 to discuss the furlough days for certified staff that had been recommended by Gov. Perdue and State Superintendent Cox.
“Following a lengthy discussion regarding recent cuts in state education funds to the school system, the Glascock County Board of Education indicated reluctance to furlough staff as was recommended by the governor and State Superintendent Cox,” Holton said. “However, the board acknowledged a school system budget deficit which included the most recent cuts, 3 percent plus state revenue reduction, and revenue equivalent to three days salary for certified personnel announced July 21, 2009, and anticipated further state education revenue reductions which Superintendent Cox recently indicated were likely by December 2009. After all relevant variables were considered, the board concurred that the furlough proposal as recommended by the governor and department of education was necessary at this time in order to maintain a manageable budget deficit.”
The days set to be furloughed include a pre-planning day on July 30 and two student holidays/teacher workdays on Oct. 9 and Dec. 17.
“It is troubling that our state revenue has been reduced to the point of furloughing educational staff as well as employees of other state agencies,” Holton said. “A consolation here is that we were able to use non-instructional days for furloughs this time, and our students won’t have to miss any days from school.”
Holton said that the days would amount to savings of around $41,000. He also said the furloughs are for all school system employees; however, some employees responsible for maintenance and operation of facilities and day-to-day business operations may be approved to work on a limited basis.
The Jefferson County School Board held a called meeting Monday, July 27, to address the issue of employee furloughs.
The county’s school superintendent, Carl Bethune, told the board Gov. Sonny Perdue had recommended a three-day furlough for all school employees across the state and that those days be between September and December.
“He (Perdue) advised us to take the cuts before Dec. 31 and apply those cuts before Dec. 31,” Bethune said.
His recommendation, which the board passed unanimously, was for the school system to furlough all employees for two days, rather than three, and for the loss of pay to be spread out over a longer period of time than the governor recommended.
“Your loss of pay will be spread out over 12 months and reflected in your checks from September 2009 to August 2010,” Bethune wrote in a letter dated July 28 to all employees.
“We are trying to make the least impact on your finances,” the letter stated.
The board approved the furloughs to be two non-instructional days. They will be on Friday, Aug. 7, and Friday, Oct. 16.
“The governor applied a 3 percent cut beyond the furlough,” Bethune told the board Monday.
School board chairman, Jimmy Fleming, asked the board attorney, Franklin Edenfield, how this would affect the teacher contracts, which specify a work year of 190 days.
Edenfield said the contracts have a provision stating the work year is based on funds being available.
Bus drivers, who work 180 days, will lose a portion of their local supplement.
Bethune said the additional 3 percent cut will be almost $500,000.
In addition to this 3 percent cut, the state estimates the three furlough days will cost the Jefferson County school system approximately $208,000 of state revenue, a school system official said Tuesday.
Although the county is furloughing staff for two days, the state is still cutting funds for three days, she said. The superintendent is expected at the next board meeting to recommend ways to adjust the budget to keep from using a third furlough day.
Based on current estimates, the official said the loss of funds for the third day of salaries is between $50,000 and $60,000.
“The economic situation is dire,” Bethune said in his letter to the system’s employees.
“Many of our families are facing layoffs and are struggling to make ends meet,” the letter stated.
Bethune ended his letter by encouraging employees to contact him if need be and reminded the employees more furlough days may be forthcoming.
“The governor has warned us that more cuts may be necessary later in the year,” he said.
Kihap! Martial arts classes test for belts
By Jared Stepp
Fists of fury, jumping kicks and powerful shouts of “kihap!” were heard at the Louisville Academy of Tang Soo Do on Highway 1 in Louisville recently as students participated in a test of their martial art skills.
The students study a martial art called Tang Soo Do, which can be translated to mean, “Way of the Worthy Hand.” They study at the dojang, their formal training hall, on Monday and Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Younger students study from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. is for the adults.
The dojang was renovated for martial arts in about a month’s time, according to fourth-degree master instructor, Bill Snider. Total costs for the renovation were around $7,500. Snider started the classes on March 16. Snider said that anyone ages 6 and older is allowed to join, mentioning that he has had an 80-year-old in one of his classes.
Snider runs the dojang along with help from Bill Easterlin, Mitchell McGraw, Joe Mentor, Rodney McGraw, Rodney Cobb and Snider’s son, William.
Everyone who works at the dojang is a volunteer. “It is not a business,” said Bill. “After the expenses, the money goes to charity.”
Bill said he fell into Tang Soo Do by accident. He looked for a martial art that fit his schedule and Tang Soo Do happened to be it.
“I believe in what it teaches. You need to exercise your body. It challenges you in a lot of different ways,” Snider said.
The dojang runs on a three-month system. At the end of each quarter the students are tested.
The test began with the younger students who performed their strikes and blocks, all while yelling, “kihap!”
The students yell “kihap” during a strike to focus and release their energy to hit harder and faster. The word “kihap” can be translated to mean the word yell. The panel of judges shout the commands to the students in Korean. An example is the combination “ahp cha nut gi tuel oh choong dan kong kyuck,” which translates to front bent kick followed by a reverse middle punch, that the students must execute.
While they were doing this, the adults went through a rigorous challenge in the back of the building. The adults had to do push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks and punching and kicking exercises to test their endurance.
“It ain’t easy. It’s tough. They have to really earn their belts,” Snider said.
The adults then performed in front of the judges, doing the same as the children, but their set included more difficult strikes, blocks and pre-set combinations called forms.
After both their performances, the students had to finish by breaking a board in half. Younger students kicked the board; older students had to do a jumping front kick to break it.
The students received their belts and awards for this quarter on June 29.
The school also features fencing lessons, which will begin soon.
The sign-up for next quarter begins in September. Anyone interested in learning more should contact Bill Snider at (478) 625-9633.
Glascock County students return to school
By Faye Ellison
As July comes to an end, parents, students and school faculty and staff await the start of a new school year next week in the early days of August.
Glascock County Consolidated School will begin school on Monday, Aug. 3, at 8 a.m., teachers will return on Wednesday, July 29, for pre-planning. Open house will be held on Friday, July 31, from 3-7 p.m.
“Open house will be an excellent opportunity to meet with your child’s teachers, as well as learn of new program offerings,” Glascock County School Superintendent Jim Holton said.
Holton said during open house, the Gibson Masonic Lodge will sponsor the GACHIP (Georgia Child Identification Program) with a data collection site in the school’s gym again this year. GACHIP is a comprehensive child recovery, identification and abduction awareness program.
Following open house, School Counselor Ann Cantrell will host a high school orientation for incoming freshmen and their parents at 7 p.m.
Holton said 44 teachers will be at the school this year, and the system is expecting 609 students for grades kindergarten through 12th.
He also noted additional training that teachers received over the summer, as well as improvements to the school’s facilities.
“Professional learning for our teachers this summer was available through several sources,” Holton said. “Our math teachers in grades six through eight and special needs teachers who work with these grade levels participated in a Middle School Math Grant Program sponsored through the CSRA RESA and Augusta State University.”
Holton said the program is designed to update teachers on new math standards and the standards based classroom.
Other teachers participated in Smart Board training offered by the Educational Technology Center in Augusta to update and improve their skills in using the Smart Boards in the classroom, while English/language arts teachers through grades kindergarten through 12th participated in Thinking Maps training.
“Thinking Maps are powerful tools for teaching and improving students’ performance and learning,” Holton said. “We continue to provide our students with the most up to date technology possible, so that they may be prepared for success.”
Holton said that all of the core curriculum classrooms in grades three through 12 have an LCD projector or a combination of an interactive whiteboard and LCD projector. Kindergarten through second grade classrooms are equipped with new computers, and many other classroom computers have been updated.
Facility upgrades include a modification project for the school cafeteria and art laboratory that was approved and substantially funded by the Georgia Department of Education.
“The scope of the project includes improvements to our cafeteria, art lab and heating and air conditioning unit upgrades,” Holton explained. “Our cafeteria has been enlarged by approximately a third and now includes the area that was previously the art lab, and an additional serving line has been added to ensure that our students are served their school meals in a timely manner.”
Holton said the art lab has been relocated into the adjacent special education classrooms that were modified for this purpose. The heating and air units were installed with the original school construction in 1994, some of the units had begun to fail and have been replaced.
Students supply lists will be available at Wal-Mart in Thomson, Wal-Mart in Sandersville or on the GCCS school website www.glascock.k12.ga.us.
“We have great teachers and excellent programs in place and are looking forward to a successful school year,” Holton said.
Mestek to close Aug. 1
By Faye Ellison
Mestek, Inc., in the city of Wrens plans to close its doors on Aug. 1. The company, formerly Air Balance, has been a staple in the city employing many Jefferson County laborers for more than 30 years and up until recently employed 91 people.
On May 28, the company released a statement of the plans to close the plant.
“In response to the very difficult economic conditions and rapidly deteriorating profitability, we are announcing the shutdown of Mestek’s manufacturing facility at Wrens,” the statement says. “Much of the remaining production activity may be moved to other Mestek plants over the next two to three months. The company will be providing severance packages to those whose jobs are going away.”
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A meeting was held the following week after the announcement with Plant Manager John Paletar, city and county officials and some from the business community. Wrens Mayor Lester Hadden said the city, as well as the county and the local workers’ union, wanted to work with Mestek to keep them in the community, but they were told it was too late.
Mestek cited reasons for closing at the meeting were the high cost for natural gas and taxes.
“We were hoping to come back to the table and show them our present gas rates, and there might have been some type of incentive the county, city or economic development authority could have on taxes,” Mayor Hadden said. “But they said as far as this plant was concerned it was too far in the mill to turn back. But they would be interested if they wanted to move a future plant in there.”
Mestek plans to shut the plant down Aug. 1 and move out by Aug. 31. Mayor Hadden said some of the equipment for the closed lines is already being moved.
Jefferson County Development Authority Director Tom Jordan said he believes it may be a simpler explanation, combining production of lines at other plants to keep costs down.
“I believe the real reason is they had the capacity to do the same functions at other plants,” Jordan said Tuesday. “I think they mentioned one in California and one in North Carolina. Two of the lines from this plant had already gone to those plants. I don’t put a lot of faith in that. Companies always like to pay less.”
“The only time I heard this was at the meeting we had at the bank,” Mayor Hadden said. “They mentioned some of the reasons was natural gas and taxes in Jefferson County were high. Nobody has ever approached me to work out anything on gas rates or city taxes or anything.
“When I came in office in 2007, gas rates were $21 a unit, we were able to get rid of some of the gas the city was committed, by selling it, so the penalty dropped. It was down to $12 a unit on gas. They never came to see if there was anything we could do.”
Mayor Hadden said the gas rates were costly because of a 10-year contract commitment to a certain amount of gas, but losing companies like Johnny Cat and Georgia Tennessee left a resounding affect on the city and its customers.
“They were using a lot of this firm gas,” Mayor Hadden explained. “But even though they closed, we still have to pay for the gas anyway. That causes the cost of gas to rise. We were able to move about half of the firm gas to another company and our rates dropped by almost 50 percent. At the end of the contract, which I believe is next year, we will be out from under it altogether. I feel we will be able to lower the rates some more at that time.”
Mayor Hadden also said some of the local union representatives were on hand and also offered Mestek, Inc., an incentive to stay.
“They had offered them a three- to five-year union contract with no raises besides the cost of living after three years,” Hadden offered.
Mestek contends that the closure of the Wrens plant will provide security in the company’s future and improve customer service, while not forgetting its loyal employees.
“Mestek will also be providing support for employees as they search for new job opportunities,” the company’s statement says. “Importantly, the company will be engaging in ‘effects bargaining’ with Local #85 Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, the Union that represents the bargaining unit of factory hourly employees, and we expect that the outcome will provide for incentives to facilitate serving the needs of our customers during the phase out, balanced with equitable treatment of those employees so affected.
“Our intention is to meet our customers’ needs on a continuing basis. We appreciate the opportunity Mestek has had to run a manufacturing facility in Wrens. And we especially appreciate the loyal service of those employees who, both now and in the past, have worked to make Mestek a success in a variety of product lines.
“Transition planning and execution teams will work to assure that the consolidation of these Wrens products into other Mestek facilities will be seamless. These moves will make the remaining facilities stronger in business and customer performance contributing to the future success of Mestek in these difficult times.”
Mayor Hadden and Jordan both said that they are working to find a new business to fill the 125,000-square-foot plant, including contacting the owner of the building to offer help in any way possible, including finding a renter or buyer.
Sandersville Technical College Jefferson County Campus Director Matt Hodges said the school went to Mestek about two weeks ago to show what the school had to offer.
“We offer several classes on programs in welding,” he said. “We also are offering the Work Keys Test and they can come and take that. If there is anybody who cannot jump right out into the workforce or is waiting a little while before going back to work, they can come to Sandersville Tech. We are giving them chances to better themselves.”
There is no doubt that the plant, which has been a mainstay in the Wrens community for so long, will leave an economically damaging footprint on the county and Mayor Hadden said Tuesday he realizes that.
“This is a tremendous loss to us,” he sighed. “Just from the city losing revenues from natural gas, taxes and water and sewage, and the impact of the 91 people losing jobs, it is hard to put a number on the economic loss. It couldn’t have come at a worse time with the economy the way it is, there are not many jobs to speak of now. It will be devastating to the town.”