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School district considers pay raises

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A possible increase in state education funding has the Georgetown County School District looking at a pay raise for employees.

If approved by the board, it will be the first in two years.

“I think that’s the route for us to go to use any additional revenue we have,” School Board Chairman Jim Dumm said.

The Senate version of the state budget that passed this week raises per pupil funding, and that will translate into $847,000 more for the county schools, according to Lisa Johnson, the district finance director.

The legislative session ends next week.

“Keep your fingers crossed,” Johnson told the county School Board this week. “Call everybody you know.”

The board was supposed to receive a final budget proposal this week, but that was delayed to give the legislature time to pass a budget. “It’s not going to be a windfall,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said of the extra state funds. “It would be enough to put some of those things in that we’ve lost.”

However, he has proposed using any additional funds to give raises. Johnson said she isn’t sure what that will cost, and it could vary depending on whether the district wants to give raises to all or just some of its nearly 1,400 employees. It’s likely to cost more than the extra funds provided in the Senate budget bill, she said.

Georgetown County has proposed a one-time bonus of its employees this year. That’s not an option for the school district. Teacher salaries are governed by state law and can’t be reduced once raised, Johnson said.

The district also has the opportunity to raise property taxes, based on a 1.6 percent increase in the consumer price index. But Dozier said he doesn’t plan to recommend a tax increase to the board.

“I don’t want to go back to that well again,” Dumm said.

Board Member Teresa Bennani has proposed using the additional property tax, estimated to be worth $650,000, to fund additional full-day pre-kindergarten classes at two rural schools. She estimated each class would cost $80,000.

But it will cost $1.2 million to expand the hours of the pre-K program, according to Patti Hammel, the district’s director of student performance. Seven of the district’s nine elementary schools qualify for federal funds allocated to low-income students. Federal rules for those funds require the district to provide equal programs at all schools. So the district would have to provide 12 all-day programs at the nine schools to comply, Hammel said.

The district has 385 pre-K students now. An expanded program would be available to new students based on developmental and economic need, and Hammel said that number would probably grow as people who use private preschools or day care sign up eligible children. The $1.2 million is “very conservative,” Hammel said.

And that doesn’t include any cost in renovating classrooms to meet the requirements for pre-K students, Johnson said.

“It’s very complicated,” Hammel said, although she agrees with Bennani that it is a need.

Bennani said she understands the complications. “We probably should do what Dr. Dozier suggested and give the [salary] increase,” she said.

She chairs the board’s early education committee, and said she will still push to expand pre-K. “We don’t have the funding and the community support to provide the funding from the local budget, that’s the sad reality,” she said.

“Lord knows I’m a strong proponent of pre-K,” Dumm said. “But first things first.”

Dozier this week told the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club that one of the best things the district can do to improve education is, “recruit quality teachers and keep them here.”

Horry County has an extra 1-cent sales tax for education, so its school district has higher salaries for teachers and administrators, he said.

He also noted that the district had its best results ever on state and federal measures of academic achievement. Of the 18 schools, 14 made “adequate yearly progress” toward the federal goal of having all students proficient in English and math by 2014.

But the district has also cut programs in recent years, including science coaches in elementary schools and foreign language teachers in elementary and middle schools.

Those losses will impact student performance, Hammel said.

Some of those programs could be restored with the additional state funds, Dozier said.

Dumm believes it’s important to raise teacher pay. “Our scores have improved and their work level has not faltered,” he said. “It can get to the point where people get frustrated.”

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