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Expanded alternative school costs revealed
But Bulloch County board members ask for additional data
W Charles Wilson
Superintendent Charles Wilson

Administrators seeking to expand Bulloch County’s alternative school to a full day of classes for each student and to add a math teacher and counselor provided cost estimates Thursday to the Board of Education.
    A proposal for a night-school session was also included, but separated from the day program in the cost estimates. Presenting the combination plan two weeks earlier, administrators hoped to set it in motion Oct. 1 by hiring the certified teacher and counselor. But board members asked for better cost figures then and, after receiving the estimates just before Thursday’s meeting, asked for still more numbers.
    “I’m not asking for any approval on this tonight,” Superintendent Charles Wilson told the board. “But, as I said before, we want to make sure you have all the information you need.”
    The next action he would ask of the board will be hiring a teacher and counselor he will recommend, he said, “which we don’t see happening before Oct. 9.”
    Transitions Learning Center, or TLC, currently provides just a half day of classes, about three hours, to each student. With no lunch served, students in grades six through 12 attend either in the morning or the afternoon. Despite existing for students who have gotten into trouble and are often behind in their courses, TLC has no counselor.
    TLC currently has three certified teachers, one each for English, science and social studies. But without a math teacher on staff, these teachers teach multiple subjects. Adding a math teacher would allow the teachers to teach only in their certified fields.

Full day: $162,825

“Part of that purpose with having an alternative school is to make sure we continue to provide quality education for those children and to give them the support they need in a different environment,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Mary Felton.
    She and Transitions Learning Center Administrator Tim Rountree developed the TLC expansion proposal. Troy Brown, the district’s chief financial officer, helped with cost projections.
    These suggest that the day program expansion would cost $162,825 through a full fiscal year. This includes $75,000 as average salary and benefits for a certified counselor, another $75,000 for the certified math teacher, $4,725 for adding three bus monitors for day-school transportation, and $8,100 for a bus driver to deliver meals to William James Educational Complex, where TLC is located and which has no active kitchen.
    Right now, the program has 44 students, reported Rountree, who said enrollment is usually smallest in August and January, increasing with referrals during the semester. During a year, typically 200 or more of the Bulloch County Schools’ 10,000 students spend time at Transitions Learning Center.
    New referral rules are also under consideration, one of which would make one semester the minimum stay.

Night program: $25,560

Now viewed separately, the night school, to operate two hours each evening, Monday through Thursday, was projected to cost $25,560 over a full year. This includes $11,880 for a night school administrator, $7,920 for a certified teacher paid an hourly rate, and $5,760 for a bus driver, if one is needed.
    Board member Vernon Littles asked why night classes are being considered.
    “We have some students in the community who commit certain offenses, and maybe the TLC is not the place for them,” Rountree said.
    Using “TLC” here to refer just to the day program, he suggested that students who have committed serious drug offenses, for example, might be excluded from it but allowed to attend the night school. Older students, ages 17-19, who work during the day might also attend the night program, Felton and Rountree have suggested.
    “Getting from a half-time to a full-time day program, to me, is the first big step in the right direction,” Wilson said. “Getting into a night program, I think, is a deeper conversation.”
    Littles suggested that the night school students might actually belong in a GED program.

BOE wants more info

Board member Mike Herndon again said more specifics were needed. This time he added a request for a current comparison to the cost of contracting alternative school services to a private operator.
    “I’m not trying to argue against the program. I think it’s the right way to go,” Herndon said Thursday, “but I would just like a comparison so we know that for sure it’s the right way to go.”
    Prior to the 2010-11 school year, the school system paid Ombudsman Educational Services to provide alternative school services.
    Board members had been supplied a budget history that included the cost of the former Ombudsman service. It showed Bulloch County paid Ombudsman $538,320 in fiscal year 2008, $550,772 in 2009 and $548,601 in 2010.
    Costs of the TLC program operating by the school system since 2010 look similar. Last school year, TLC cost $534,647. This year, it is budgeted $518,125.
    However, the cost per full-time-equivalent student is lower with TLC than it was with Ombudsman, according to figures the board was provided. Classes were also cut to half a day for each student.
    If the TLC day program, only, is expanded as proposed, its total cost is projected to be $680,950. The full-day and night program, together, would be expected to cost $706,510.
    When Herndon suggested getting a current estimate from Ombudsman, Wilson said that a contracted service could be part of a discussion for a longer-term solution, but that the current proposal is for the near term.
    “Addressing this short-term, I think we’re trying to do some sketch comparisons in terms of whether it’s worth stepping forward with this next step,” he said.
    Other board members also said they needed further convincing. Member Anshul Jain supported adding the counselor as “intuitively obvious” and liked the suggestion for a night school. But she said the sudden urgency troubled her a bit and noted that expanding TLC was not a priority in the school system’s strategic plan.
    Member Steve Hein asked about the difficulty of finding highly qualified teachers with the school year underway. Littles wondered if a math teacher will be hired away from one of the regular schools.
    “I like the program, but it’s the timing,” Littles said.
    Wilson asked board members to send him their questions by Monday so that they can be answered before the Sept. 25 meeting. He also said he would advertise for the math teacher and counselor — and these job notices were posted Friday — but with the
    understanding that applicants will be interviewed only if the board indicates support, for a hiring decision to follow Oct. 9.
    The superintendent would have authority to reschedule the TLC day program to a full day of classes under the current teachers but cannot add the personnel without the board’s approval.
    Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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