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Tax increase, staff furloughs on the table for school district

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

The Georgetown County School Board is considering a tax increase and employee furloughs to close a $3 million deficit in its $72 million budget for 2010.

Taxes on commercial property and second homes would increase by 4.2 mills, or $25.20 for every $100,000 of assessed value, under the plan presented to the board this week. Owner-occupied homes are exempt from tax for school operations.

The tax increase would generate $1.7 million.

Rather than lay off teachers, Superintendant Randy Dozier said teachers could take two unpaid days out of their staff development time. The administration would take four day. Those days would save $700,000, said Dozier.

District staff is still working on ways to cover the remaining $600,000 shortfall, Dozier said. Since the district will take $1.5 million from its $10.8 million reserve fund to make up the 2008-2009 deficit, withdrawing $600,000 more is not an option.

“If we don’t take it out of reserve, then they’d be in unemployment lines,” Dozier said, referring to the $1.5 million deficit.

Unemployment was a concern last month when Dozier learned that next year’s enrollment numbers fell in the western portion of the county. Now, he and Lisa Johnson, the associate superintendant for finance and operations, said there are jobs available as a result of federal stimulus money.

The money is specified for programs for special needs and low-income students to create jobs in the same areas, however, the district reworked job descriptions so that schools who don’t qualify could have positions that would fall under the stimulus money’s requirements. As a result, the district identified 52 possible teaching positions.

These positions range from media specialists and special behavior specialist, to curriculum coaches. In Waccamaw schools, the elementary school will get a curriculum coach. Waccamaw Intermediate will get a part-time learning specialist and Waccamaw Middle and High schools will get one additional English and/or Math teacher.

And even more jobs may be available since letters of resignation and retirement are still coming in, Dozier said. He knows that 22 teachers are currently displaced across the county, but they will be able to apply for any of the open positions they qualify for.

When employee contracts are sent out on May 15, Dozier believes the district will have a better estimate of future openings.

Other financial changes in the district include a 10 cent increase in cafeteria meal costs. Elementary school lunches will increase to $1.45, middle and high school lunches will be $1.55 and breakfast at all schools will cost 95 cents.

“You can see what food services is up against every time you go to the grocery store or your favorite restaurant,” said Jan Knox, the district’s food service director.

Dozier decided not to pursue hiring an in-house architect after reviewing the cost and issues of hiring an architect during a budget crisis.

Proposed at the April 7 board meeting, an in-house architect would have cost the district $224,200 for one year. Money from the capital projects budget which is stable compared to the budget used to pay teachers, would have funded the position.

Money from the capital-projects fund will also pay for five Promethean boards at Waccamaw High School. Waccamaw Intermediate will get eight boards. The money will come from he school’s start-up budget.

The district’s own budget is not finalized. Johnson said she’d have more information at the next board meeting on May 19.

The board is required to have a budget finalized by June 30.

A special board meeting will be held Tuesday at noon in the board’s conference room to discuss teacher contracts. The board will be in executive session for the whole meeting according to district communications officer Ray White.

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