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School district is dark in shutdown

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Cost-saving measure of weeklong furlough may save enough money to fund one teacher

By Todd Martin

If Shelby County Public Schools buildings look even darker than usual this week, it’s because they are.

For the first time, the district has instituted a furlough week for administrators during the holiday break. This cost-saving measure that allows the district to save on administration salaries and on utility bills at the schools by dropping the energy consumption to the lowest levels possible.

“The administrators on two-hundred-and-forty-day contracts were cut to two hundred and thirty-six days, and normally this is a really quiet time of year,” Superintendent James Neihof said.

 “I think some administrators will miss the quiet work time, and some of the people and parents that might come in this time of year won’t be able to, but it’s something we thought we would try this year. We’ll see what kind of feedback we get.”

The cost-saving move was first announced in January with the district’s draft budget, which is the first budget projection for the upcoming school year.

Even at that early date, Neihof and his staff were aware of drastic cuts on the way through state funding and were working to find ways to fill the void.

The school board also instituted a 2.6 percent increase on property taxes in September, which was targeted specifically by the district to cover the $110,000 loss in state funding and two more days of professional development for teachers.

And if the district is able to save as much as Neihof thinks is possible – approximately equaling the cost of salary and benefits for one teacher – the 1-week shutdown likely will stay.

“We’re currently working on the budget reduction to create a balanced budget for next year, so if this goes well, we’ll do it again,” he said.

There will be a few folks milling around the halls and classrooms, but not many.

“We are taking the opportunity to do a little work behind the scenes to tighten some security items that need to be addressed,” he said. “There will also be a few maintenance people working because we have some things that need to be checked on a routine basis.”

He said he also has not asked the basketball teams to refrain from practicing but did warn them that the gyms could be chilly.

“Some of the ball teams have things going on during the week, so we told them that if they must practice that they’ll need to wear sweats,” he said. “It will be cool, but it’s nothing they can’t work with.”

Although a first-time salary reduction and loss of productive work time is never a welcome sight, especially around the holidays, Neihof said he hopes the administrative staff can use it to their advantage.

“One way to look at it is a guilt-free opportunity to let work go and just be with family,” he said. “I hope that’s the way the staff can look at it.”