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District considers layoffs for 25 teachers

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Falling revenue and falling enrollment may lead the Georgetown County School District to layoff 50 of its 1,600 employees, including 25 teachers, according to Superintendent Randy Dozier.

“I consider it a travesty to eliminate teachers,” Dozier said, especially when eliminating teachers could mean increasing class sizes, but he said the district has looked at everything else.

After about $2.5 million in state cuts to the operating budget in 2008 and again in 2009, the school district expects operating revenue to drop from $75 million this year to $71 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

With district officials still looking for ways to make up $1.5 million lost this school year, Dozier said it will probably draw from its $10.5 million reserve to make up the loss.

To balance the 2009-10 budget, the district is looking at ways to reallocate teachers, cut contract days, furlough employees and find grant money.

Dozier said he and Celeste Pringle, associate superintendant for curriculum, will try to meet face-to-face with employees the district may have to layoff. His goal is to meet them before May 5, the day when contracts go out.

When teachers heard about possible layoffs, they sent Dozier e-mails offering suggestions about other places the district could cut its budget. He’s also been in touch with members of the district Teacher’s Forum, who suggested cutting paid workdays to help save jobs.

“You have to feel good about people after hearing that,” he said.

State budget cuts are partially to blame for the potential layoffs, Dozier said.

However, enrollment numbers used to determine how many teachers a school needs are also down.

“We lost about 30 positions because of declining enrollment, and because we lost specific funding, we’re probably going to loose more,” Dozier said.

Teachers who retire or leave the district could provide some savings when their salaries and benefits are eliminated from the budget.

“We’re still working on it, and going through every fund. We have a very good team and we all work hard to make sure what we are doing is the best thing for the children,” Lisa Johnson, associate superintendant for finance, said.

No one wants to increase class sizes, she said, so they’re looking at all of their options.

Those options expanded Tuesday when Gov. Mark Sanford signed legislation to give school districts more flexibility in spending state funds, and allow teacher and administrator furloughs, and allow district to renegotiate salaries.

Johnson’s not sure how much fund flexibility will help, but she hopes by shifting money the district can “pick up positions in some form or fashion.” She also thinks it will help the district put money in the budget to meet state requirements such as classes for gifted students.

While the flexibility is welcome, state Superintendant of Education Jim Rex said this “development is overshadowed by the issue of whether federal stimulus money will be available for schools over the next two years.”

Dozier said the district is factoring about $1.7 million from the federal stimulus into the budget, but, like Rex, he is not counting on the money.

With 135-day enrollment numbers down, fewer teachers may be needed and layoffs could result even with the federal money. No school will go untouched since each has more teachers than it technically needs, said Dozier.

To save jobs and money, he is considering asking schools to share positions such as reading coaches and guidance counselors. While sharing would displace some employees, it would help keep others employed.

As the district looks for ways to save jobs, departments continue to make requests for funds to the school board.

The food service department wants the district to increase lunch and breakfast prices. The cost of food and milk keep fluctuating, and a 10 cent increase would help pay for the price differences.

Bill Crompton, the director of facilities, asked for $50,000 for a used truck to service lights at parking lots and ball fields.

“Having a truck will make it safer for the electricians who service the lights as well as reduce the need to rent a crane to service the light poles,” he said.

Diane Wingate, who is in charge of accountability and assessment, asked for $80,000 to help teachers and administrators access student test data. The district used to have a data system, but dropped the contract to save money.

Wingate said there is no easy way to access test data electronically now.

She also asked the district for $8,000 to $16,200 to administer a pre-test of the ACT, a college entrance exam. The state pays for a similar pre-test for the SAT, Wingate said.

And Wingate asked for $65,000 in computer equipment to run new software for a student information database, teacher grade book and Internet access. The state requires districts to make the change but provides the software, not the hardware.

“Is that what you call an unfunded mandate?” School Board Chairman Jim Dumm asked.

“We don’t have a choice,” Dozier said.

The next school board meeting is April 28. Dozier expects to have a budget ready for approval.

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