By Gracie Bonds Staples
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Fulton County school counselors and psychologists added faces to the proposed budget cuts as the system seeks to pare $120 million from its 2011 budget.
Speaking before the county board of education Tuesday night, counselors provided stark examples of students at risk: three elementary-age children who were left to fend for themselves while their parent was strung out. A 14-year-old who was being recruited by gangs. A fifth-grade girl whose mother didn’t believe she was molested by her step-father.
“How do we educate that child without a school social worker to intervene on his behalf,” Stephanie Schuette asked the board.
Schuette, a 38-year-old mother and school social worker, was one of nearly a half dozen school employees and parents to address the board before an overflow crowd. Board president Linda Bryant assured the audience it would take the comments under consideration.
Parents and employees had been bracing for an additional $28.9 million in cuts recommended by Superintendent Cindy Loe.
Those recommendations come after the more than $35 million in cuts that the board approved Feb. 18, when it voted to increase class size to the state maximum across all grades. The board also agreed to eliminate the pre-kindergarten general fund, the summer CRCT retake program and reduce the school calendar from 180 days to 177 days.
The board is expected to vote on the more recent recommendations – the elimination of 1,000 positions – at its March 18 meeting.
Nearly half of those positions are teachers. Others included are 100 are custodial jobs, 26 social workers, 37 counselors, 28 psychologists, 42 instructional support teachers and 59 positions in the district’s popular band and orchestra program.
Unlike other budget items, Loe said the district does not we receive state funding for its band and orchestra programs.
“Anything we cut is straight savings to the bottom line,” she said.
A big proponent of band and orchestra, Loe said it was difficult for her to recommend cutting the programs, which could save the district $4.1 million.
Board members indicated they had all lost sleep over the issue and not just the cuts.
“South Fulton needs social workers, counselors and psychologists,” Bryant said to applause.
Loe said she has the backing of elementary school principals who say they favor dropping band and orchestra over staff reductions. But she added, “If we do this, we should have an after-school program and that is part of my recommendation.”
More than 4,000 parents have signed an on-line petition urging the board to reconsider before the March 18 vote.
Schuette recommended the board raise the millage rate by two mills rather than cut school counselors. She also said social workers responded to over 29,000 referrals of crisis intervention.
“The proposed budget cuts would have 50 percent fewer social workers, leaving only 28 people to respond to a projected 35,000 referrals,” she said. “It is not possible to meet such expectations.”
Bruce Moody, a parent, told the board that while he is happy to hear about the money the board will save.
"But who will save our children,” asked Moody, vice president of the PTA at Creekside High School in Fairburn and grandfather of two Fulton high schoolers Quoting Malcolm X, Moody said that education is the door to the future.
“Right now, it seems like it’s closing,” he said.
Other recommendations by the superintendent included scaling back on school resource officers (police officers) to one in north Fulton high schools and two in south Fulton high schools, which could save $1 million. And another $5 million could be saved by halving the number of school counselors and psychologists.
Employees who lose their jobs will be notified no later than April and will remain on the school system payroll through June 30, said Toller.