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Decatur Superintendent proposes plan to gradually reduce staff

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Decatur Superintendent proposes plan to gradually reduce staff

The Decatur School Board met on Tuesday, Jan. 25, to discuss the district's staffing allotment and the superintendent search. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur Superintendent Maggie Fehrman presented a new approach to staffing and discussed the staffing allotment the district receives from the state during the School Board meeting on Jan. 25.

The district is facing several factors that will have significant impacts on its budget going forward. CSD’s fund balance is projected to be lower than recommended for fiscal year 2023. Enrollment is decreasing, which means state funding will decrease.

CSD hired additional staff using CARES Act funding, which will be rolling back into the district’s general fund in fiscal year 2023. The school system is additionally spending more money per student than it is bringing in.

“These issues are all coming together at a point where we need to take some action, or we’re not going to be able to sustain the school district financially,” Fehrman said.

In order to address the financial concerns, the district has implemented a hiring freeze at the Wilson Center and is going through an audit that will assess the central office staff.

Fehrman has recommended implementing a different staffing model to present a balanced budget as one way to help address these issues. The transition to the staffing plan would happen slowly.

The school system receives funding from the state of Georgia for its teachers; however, they typically don’t receive enough funding for the amount of teachers the system has. Overall, CSD is allotted about 354 classroom teachers based on the full-time equivalent from the state but has 473 instructional staff members.

The full-equivalent refers to data collected for quality basic education funding through the state and is based on student enrollment and the education services provided by local school districts to students, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

“Educational programs are divided into seventeen state funded categories. A specific funding weight is assigned to each category. The base amount of money received for each FTE student is determined by the Georgia General Assembly,” according to the FTE general information provided by the Georgia DOE.

Fehrman explained that FTE is earned through scheduling students, so part of the staffing allotment plan is helping the schools schedule their students effectively. Employees are allocated based on a ratio, which leads to the state not always allocating a full staff member. Staff could be allocated by fractions.

One area the district largely funds compared to state funding is teachers at the lower elementary schools.

“We are using more teachers than we’re allotted from the state, which is not necessarily a bad thing,” Fehrman said. “It’s just that we know we have several factors that we value in our school system. One of them being smaller schools…but that comes at an increased cost. Part of that increased cost is [an] increased staffing allocation at various schools.”

She said it means the district has to rely on increased local funding to keep the school system operating.

To address the staffing concerns, Fehrman proposed implementing an updated school staffing plan that provides an extended runway for transition to a new staffing model to allow the district to slowly decrease the number of locally funded staff.

If the new staffing plan is implemented, there would temporarily be an excess of locally funded staff. Fehrman suggested creating a district roster of the excess staff who will be assigned to the schools. For each school, the difference between state funded and locally funded staff would be added to the district roster.

Also, as natural attrition happens and creates openings, staff on the district roster would be used to fill local school openings.

Some teachers on the district roster could be considered game changers to help students and meet them where they are. Students would be identified to work with the game changers, although details on how that would happen have not been determined yet.

“This is still just very much an idea of something that we could do to be a little more innovative to support our students with the needs that they have and meet them with what they need as students,” Fehrman said.

Game changer teachers would work four days a week during the school year, as well as during intercessions and summer camps. They would report to the schools from 9:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. so they can work at the schools during the day and also provide after school opportunities, like tutoring.

“They’re already teachers on staff. They know the kids. They know the content, and it doesn’t cost us an extra dime,” Fehrman said.

She added that it’s a win-win situation where the schools can support students and scheduling can be built around that.

In other business, the board heard a presentation from the Georgia School Boards Association on how they conduct superintendent searches. Johnson-Davis previously said the School Board is considering partnering with the organization to conduct the search.

The board did not decide on Tuesday night on whether it will partner with GSBA. They are planning to seek out other consultants to discuss how they would conduct the search before making a final decision.

The School Board was set to begin the search before the end of the school year, but the board announced on Jan. 19 that it needs more time to hire a permanent replacement for former superintendent David Dude. They agreed to offer Superintendent Maggie Fehrman a one-year contract extension.

“We wanted to take our time and wait for the GSBA presentation to hear their timeline,” Johnson-Davis previously said. “We didn’t feel confident we had enough time to have someone in place by the beginning of next school year.”

Editor Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this article.

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