Last school year, the Bibb County school system contracted with Christine Rodriguez and Cydney Harrison to help Union Elementary School students improve their speech.
This school year, though, the women and at least six other contract speech therapists were asked to become part-time school system employees. That move kept the system from paying a higher hourly rate for the therapists, and it’s saving the district about $92,000.
Having the contract workers “was not cost-efficient,” said Dan Ray, the school system’s assistant superintendent for human resources. “If you actually have the employee, you’re not charged an hourly amount.”
It’s just one example of how the school system, during these tough economic times, is trying to cut its spending wherever it can.
A Telegraph investigation earlier this year showed that the Bibb school system spent about $1.3 million in local, state and federal funds for consultants last school year. Records for the 2007-2008 school year show that there were about 200 workers under contract for various jobs and programs, costing the system about $650,000 from its general fund.
An examination of recent records on contract workers and consultants paid from just the general fund showed that the school system has cut about 70 percent of its contract workers, compared to last school year, saving about $455,000.
And of the 23 consultants paid about $200,000 last school year from the general fund, about $90,000 has been eliminated.
“We are making a conscious effort to not use as many and are watching every dime we spend like everyone else in this economy,” said Sharon Roberts, the director of finance for Bibb County schools. “I’m sure we hated to lose a lot. We’re down to using what we absolutely need to for programs to work successfully.”
The reduction, in part, will mean less of a burden on taxpayers and allow more money to be funneled into the classroom, Roberts said.
STARTING THE CUTS
During the 2007-2008 school year, the system hired about 200 people, from former educators to community members, for jobs ranging from coaching and tutoring to someone to coordinate field trips.
For example, Pat Coxsey, retired Westside High School principal, was paid $41,737 to mentor new high school principals Karen Yarbrough at Howard High and Gail Gilbert at Rutland High. Her contract ended in September, school officials said.
Penny Smith, who retired as principal from Alexander II Magnet School in spring 2007, was paid $22,800 to work six months to help the school system prepare for a visit from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, as was another consultant. Smith is not budgeted for any work in the Bibb County system this school year.
“Areas not critical we are looking to make cost reductions,” said Ron Collier, the system’s chief financial officer.
Among the cuts was ending Saturday School, which cost at least $154,000 last school year. The money was used to pay workers to supervise students who were sent to Neel Academy for disciplinary reasons or for students who needed to make up credits.
The director of the weekend school was paid about $6,000. At least five other workers were paid hourly rates to patrol or supervise.
“That has been curtailed,” Ray said. “We’ve done away with it for cost savings.”
The school system paid other consultants for such services as helping with disaster recovery planning, technology work and paying musicians for choral arrangements.
One of the consulting payments cut was the Center for Racial Understanding in Macon, which split the salary and benefits for one employee with the school system. That worker helped coordinate student internships and helped students find jobs with local businesses. The school system’s share of the payments was $39,000.
That contract ended this past summer after The Telegraph first reported on the school system’s spending on consultant work.
WHERE CONTRACTS STAND NOW
Records show that of the about 200 people on some 243 contracts last school year, 173 of them are not budgeted to return this school year. Among the 23 consultants under contract previously, 18 of them have also ended this school year.
Central office consultant Bill Barr, who earned $120,000 last school year for project work, left in June. The system paid Barr about $600,000 as a consultant who helped the superintendent over a seven-year period.
“I think it’s the way the economy is. There was a comprehensive look at what we were spending our money on, and some things had to go,” said Gary Bechtel, a Bibb County school board member. “Some consultants were luxuries and not core expenditures.”
The system is just using what it needs, school officials say.
When coaches can’t be found within the system for different sports, for example, the system hires outside help, said Raynette Evans, the system’s athletic director.
Several “community coaches” and head coaches have signed contracts to work for the system again this year, such as Macon business owner Cesare Mammarella, who was paid $2,500 last school year as a soccer coach for the Westside High School varsity girls team. Records show that he’ll return to coach this school year.
Teacher Mark Paschal, who earned $11,300 last school year to tutor sick or hospital-bound students on top of his regular teaching pay, is also working again this year, along with other tutors.
Retired educator Barbara Green returned to coordinate student field trips and keep billing records. Green was paid $15,000 for that work last school year.
Some contract workers who don’t appear again on this year’s contract list say, however, that they could be added later.
Victor Hobbs, a retired director of the Georgia Learning Resource Center, held three workshops last school year, either training custodians in communication skills or school faculty on how to deal with difficult students. Those sessions earned him $3,100 for a few days of work.
He’s been in contact with the school system about hosting another session this school year, he said.
Even with the belt-tightening, more financial hurdles lie ahead. School officials say each department is reviewing program costs for possible cuts.
The governor cut $2.4 million from Bibb’s school budget earlier this year, and there may be further adjustments by early next year, Bechtel predicted.
“There is not much sunshine on the horizon,” he said. “So we expect there will be additional cuts by the state that we may have to accommodate.”
To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.