Peach school board prepares to face deeper cuts

FORT VALLEY — The Peach County Board of Education is preparing for $1.6 million in state budget cuts, higher than the previously projected $1.2 million, Superintendent Susan Clark said at the board’s Tuesday study session.

The state legislature is expected to approve its final budget this week. Once completed, school districts will receive an allotment sheet about two to three weeks later, Clark said. Based on the state fund allotment, school districts must submit their completed budgets by June 30.

Peach County officials have already said personnel reductions would amount to $1 million of the cuts. Personnel expenses will make up 86 percent of the budget, Clark said.

However, no cuts will be made to local supplements or salary step increases for staff.

A number of positions also will be funded through federal dollars, Clark said.

The district’s decision to adopt the four-day school week has been beneficial to Peach County, Clark said. In doing so, teachers have been able to maintain a working schedule equivalent to 190 days and have not had to miss out on professional learning days — cuts that have affected other systems.

“It’s not a bright picture,” Clark said. “I think because of decisions we made, which we were heavily criticized for, we’re in much better shape than some districts around.”

After discussing the budget for the upcoming school year, Clark gave a presentation on the system’s plans for federal school improvement grant funds. School officials will find out in June whether Peach County High School will receive up to $2 million a year for three years to make changes to improve student achievement.

With the funds, the district plans to implement three themed academies at Peach County High: a science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy; an arts and humanities academy; and a human services academy.

Clark said there will be no ninth-grade academy at the school on the recommendation of representatives from other schools she has consulted.

Peach County aims to implement the instructional methods of the New Tech Network, made up of 40 high schools nationwide. Developed to connect academic instruction to real-world application, the students receive instruction in math, science, English and the social sciences all four years, rely on project-based learning, and use technology to enhance classroom instruction, according to a presentation by Clark.

Teachers at Peach County High already have begun preparations with principal Bruce Mackey for placement within the academies next year and will need to undergo intensive summer training.

Mackey pointed out that the changes need to be sustainable once the school improvement grant funds run out, and the school is relying on existing staff for the time being.

While they would be quick and dramatic, Mackey said he hoped the changes would bring lasting improvements to the students at Peach County High.

“It’s about winning year-in and year-out with what we’re doing in the classroom,” he said.

To contact Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.