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Dougherty County schools need 65 percent rule waiver

School system needs to apply for hardship waiver for Georgia's direct classroom expenditures rule

Dougherty County School System Executive Director of Finance Ken Dyer discusses the State of Georgia’s 65 percent rule as school board member Robert Youngblood looks on. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Dougherty County School System Executive Director of Finance Ken Dyer discusses the State of Georgia’s 65 percent rule as school board member Robert Youngblood looks on. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

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Dougherty County School Board members and officials listen to a discussion about the State of Georgia’s 65 percent expenditures rule. Pictured are,from left, Board Chairman Carol Tharin, Board Member James Bush, Board Member Darrel Ealum and Superintendent Dr. David C. Mosely. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — The Dougherty County School System finance committee has agreed to ask the school board to allow Superintendent David C. Mosely to seek a hardship waiver of the state of Georgia’s 65 percent rule.

The 65 percent rule, enacted by the Georgia Legislature in 2006, requires state school systems to spend 65 percent of their operating expenditures on direct classroom instruction, something the Dougherty County School system has had difficulty doing since the law’s inception.

“Our system historically has had to seek a waiver,” said school system information director R.D. Harter. “At least for the six years that I’ve been here.”

Harter said the majority of school systems in Georgia have difficulty meeting the requirement and have to apply for a waiver of some kind.

The state allows for two types of waivers for the rule, an achievement waiver or a hardship waiver. The achievement waiver can be granted if the school system exceeds the state average in a fiscal year in the areas of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), graduation rate or Standard Achievement Test (SAT). The hardship waiver can be granted is the school system has undergone an extreme situation, like a disaster or a financial hardship affecting the system’s ability to meet the requirement.

In 2010, only 56 systems were compliant with the rule outright, while 7 systems were compliant through 2 percent growth from the prior year. Forty-seven systems were compliant through AYP, 20 systems were compliant through graduation rate and 4 systems were compliant through SAT scores. The remaining 46 systems had to file a hardship waiver or were non-compliant.

Harter said that Dougherty County’s hardship waiver is driven by the fact that the system has been impacted by the economy, primarily by reductions in state funding over the past several years.

“Our budget’s been cut by the state for a number of years now,” Harter said. “There’s so many things that work against you.”

According to Ken Dyer, the executive director of finance and operations for the school system, another main reason DCSS and other school systems have a hard time meeting the requirement is the type of things the state considers direct classroom instruction.

According to information provided to the finance committee by Dyer, direct classroom instruction expenses include salaries and benefits for teachers and paraprofessionals, costs for instructional supplies and materials, costs associated with classroom activities, tuition paid to out of state districts and private instruction for special needs students.

Expenses that are not included in direct classroom instruction are things such as school administration, plant operations and maintenance, food services, transportation, student support services, such as nurses and guidance counselors, and instructional support such as media centers and teacher training.

Dyer and Harter both argue that the things not included in direct classroom instruction expenses are necessary to operating a school system and do have an impact on student development.

“A computer lab in a library wouldn’t count toward direct classroom expenditures, even if you used the computer lab for some of your classes,” Dyer told the finance committee. “It’s not considered instructional, its considered instructional support. It’s kind of skewed, but that’s the way the law is written.”

Dyer also told the committee that the percentages are also affected by overall spending in areas outside of direct classroom instruction. Dyer used the school’s nutrition program to illustrate how certain overall expenditures create a situation where the school system lacks some measure of control.

“There’s some concern that some of the things that are included in your total expenditures you have no control over,” Dyer explained. “You have to provide lunch and you can’t use funds for the nutrition program for direct instruction. But it counts against you because it’s a non-instructional expenditure.”

In an effort to raise the school systems percentages in regard to direct classroom instruction against overall expenditures, Dyer said the system is doing things like hiring more specialized teachers and looking at addition things that would benefit the classroom.

“We’re making progress,” said Dyer. “We’re still looking at ways to increase our instructional expenditures. But I’m not so concerned about the percentage but rather the quality of the expenditure. You can find things to spend money on for instruction, but we want to make sure we spend it wisely on things that will have an impact on the classroom.”

Currently the DCSS spends about 60 percent of its operating expenditures on direct classroom instruction, which is an increase over prior years.

Other items discussed at the meeting included a recommendation for the board to approve Title 1-A grants for improving academic achievement and school improvement, a recommendation for the board to approve an investment vehicle and a bank account for housing and investing SPLOST funds and a recommendation for the board to review certain system policies, including the purchasing policy.

The school board is scheduled to have it’s regular monthly meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at the School Administration Building on Pine Avenue.