Peach schools public hearing gets heated

FORT VALLEY — A public meeting Wednesday about proposed employee furloughs ended in an exchange about the upcoming fiscal year budget, with a resident claiming he and others in the county had been insulted.

Susan Clark, superintendent of Peach County schools, and Fort Valley resident Marvin Crafter got into a dispute, seemingly about whether more central office personnel should have their salaries cut to possibly save teaching jobs.

Clark repeatedly told Crafter the meeting was about the proposed four-day furlough, not about the budget.

Crafter was insistent he had a right to hold Clark accountable and have input before the budget was adopted, and Clark said that wasn’t the legally accepted process in the state. “I have a right as a taxpayer to make that decision,” Crafter said.

“What’s your qualification to make that decision?” Clark responded.

“That’s an insult to me and the taxpayers of this county,” Crafter replied, his voice rising.

Clark then ended the public hearing, attended by about 60 residents, teachers and other school system employees. Another hearing is set for 4 p.m. today.

Clark said later she’s willing to sit and talk with Crafter after the budget is approved by the Board of Education, and expressed regret she lost her temper with him.

“We’re all frustrated; the economy stresses everybody,” she said. “I do care about what happens to people, and I would not have eliminated anybody’s job. I’m angry, and the other 180 superintendents are angry at the Legislature and the governor for putting us in this position.”

On the furloughs, Clark said the four days — July 31, Dec. 18 and Jan. 4-5 — would be non-instructional days. The loss in salary, paid strictly from the local supplement, would be spread out over the year, she said, and would average less than $100 a month.

“We cut everywhere we knew where to cut,” Clark said. “The furlough was the only thing left.”

The furloughs, added to other cuts in programs and personnel, were designed to help overcome a $2 million shortfall in state funding, said Susan Perry, school system finance director.

Clark said the system would save $534,000 with the four-day furloughs. In addition, she said, the system cut $1.1 million from the central office and school budgets; eliminated seven clerical positions at the schools and one in the central office for a savings of $250,000; eliminated eight and three-quarter positions at the central office for a savings of $434,000; eliminated 13 paraprofessional positions for a savings of $346,000; and did not fill eight elementary, two middle school teaching and two nursing vacancies for a savings of $754,000. The system’s tentative $61.4 million budget includes a 1.538-mill increase, bringing the millage rate up to 17 mills. A mill in the county generates about $625,000, said Perry.

“First, this was not an easy decision. We agonized over four months on this,” Clark said, referring to the furloughs. “If by some miracle something happens and we have the money — and I’m a person who believes in miracles — we’re not going to do this.”

To contact writer Jake Jacobs, call 923-6199, extension 305.